- Democrats use debate to wage attacks before New Hampshire vote
- State primary on Feb. 9 poses test for campaigns after Iowa
Hillary Clinton accused Bernie Sanders of engaging in a “very artful smear” against her by suggesting that she’s been influenced by the millions of dollars in campaign contributions and speaking fees that she’s taken from Wall Street and other industries.
“Time and time again, by innuendo, there is this attack that he is putting forth, which really comes down to, you know, anybody who ever took donations or speaking fees from any interest group has to be bought,” Clinton said Thursday as the two Democratic presidential candidates engaged in their first one-on-one debate five days before the New Hampshire primary. “I just absolutely reject that, senator.”
“You will not find that I ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation that I ever received,” she continued. “It’s time to end the artful smear that you and your campaign have been carrying out in recent weeks.”
Sanders responded by listing ways in which corporate interests have influenced federal laws on the financial sector, drug prices and more, but not directly linking those claims to any actions by Clinton.
The former secretary of state and the Vermont senator have been engaging in a verbal battle over who can claim the party’s liberal base. During the debate at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, hosted by MSNBC, Sanders criticized Clinton for being insufficiently progressive by zeroing in on her donors from Wall Street and the speaking fees she has collected. The issue has resonated with some voters.
In a question submitted by a New Hampshire Union Leader reader, Clinton was asked if she would release transcripts of the paid speeches she’s made. Clinton declined to say yes or no. “I will look into it,” she said. “I don’t know the status.” Some of her contracts for paid speeches included confidentiality agreements that would complicate their release.
Clinton also acknowledged that the answer she gave about her paid speeches during a Wednesday town hall -- that she took hundreds of thousands of dollars from Goldman Sachs because they’d offered it -- may not have served her well.
"I think I may not have done the job I should in explaining my record," she said.
Clinton’s umbrage at Sanders attempts to tie her to big banks didn’t stop her from joining him in making Wall Street the central villain in the debate narrative. She said that she sounded warnings about the mortgage market before her 2008 presidential campaign. She also cited her support for ending the carried interest loophole and changing executive compensation laws.
"The best evidence that the Wall Street people at least know where I stand is because they are trying to beat me in this primary," she said, citing the millions of dollars that super PACs on the right have spent against her.
As he has through much of the campaign, Sanders railed against the financial industry for causing disruption in the economy and the decline of the middle class.
“The business model of Wall Street is fraud,” he said.
Clinton said she had “no disagreement” with Sanders on the causes of economic inequality. “I think it’s a broader target list than just Wall Street,” she said.
Sanders also disputed Clinton’s contentions that his goals, like universal health care and free public college, are out of reach or radical, citing other countries that have it. He said the nation has the resources to do it and he knew where they are.
“It’s now Wall Street’s time to help the middle class,” Sanders said.
Both candidates have been trying to lower expectations for their performance in the Feb. 9 primary to position themselves for the next high-profile contest on the calendar, South Carolina’s Democratic primary on Feb. 27.
Clinton escaped with a victory in Monday’s Iowa caucuses by the slimmest of margins, and she’s trailed Sanders in most polls taken in New Hampshire since the start of the year. The latest, a Wall Street Journal/NBC/Marist poll conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday, showed the Vermont senator with a 20-percentage point advantage. His lead was an even more dramatic 31 points in a CNN/WMUR poll also released Thursday.
While the gap is very likely to close by the time voting gets under way on Feb. 9, a margin of victory anywhere near that big for Sanders would be a major blow for Clinton after her close call in Iowa. The race will move into more favorable territory for Clinton after next week -- states that are less white and less liberal than Iowa and New Hampshire -- but Clinton is now facing a longer slog of a campaign than when she announced her intention to run.
In an attempt to head-off negative interpretations of a Clinton loss to Sanders in New Hampshire, her aides are citing the state’s record of handing victories to candidates from neighboring states, including Democrats Michael Dukakis and John Kerry and Republican Mitt Romney, all from Massachusetts.
That glosses over the fact that Clinton squeezed out a come-from-behind win against then-Senator Obama in 2008 and that the second place second-place finish in 1992 by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, kept him in the nomination race as scandals threatened to derail his campaign.
Sanders has played the expectations game as well. At a town hall on Wednesday he described himself as an underdog “taking on the most powerful political organization in the country. And that’s, you know, the Clinton organization.”