Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clashed over support for President Barack Obama in their first debate since the New Hampshire primary.
The former secretary of state sought to cast herself as the protector of Barack Obama’s legacy, sharply attacking Senator Bernie Sanders for criticizing the president.
“The kind of criticism I hear from Senator Sanders, I expect from Republicans,” Hillary Clinton said.
Nevada and South Carolina, states with large minority populations, vote next.
At the PBS NewsHour televised debate, Hillary Clinton repeatedly emphasized her ties to Barack Obama who is extremely popular among minority voters.
Meanwhile, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders took pains to tailor to his message of economic fairness to address disparities in black communities.
Hillary Clinton also stressed her pragmatism, questioning Bernie Sanders’ pledges to provide universal healthcare and free higher education.
“We have a special obligation to make clear what we stand for which is why we can’t make promises we can’t keep,” Hillary Clinton said.
Immigration reform was also a major topic of discussion. Both Democratic candidates supported creating a path to citizenship for the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US and they decried a recent uptick in deportations by the Obama administration.
Criticizing the anti-immigrant positions of Republican front-runner Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders said immigrants should not be scapegoats for economic uncertainty.
“We have got to stand up to the Trumps of the world, who are trying to divide us,” the senator said.
Hillary Clinton is trying to rebuild her campaign after Bernie Sanders decisively won the New Hampshire primary.
She received a much-needed endorsement from an influential bloc of black Democrats in Congress on February 11.
Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary by 22 percentage points and lost the Iowa caucuses narrowly, but both states have nearly all-white populations.
He now faces the challenge of finding votes among the sizable Latino and black electorates in Nevada and South Carolina.
Hillary Clinton has strong support among Latinos and African-Americans and is expected to do well in the two states.
A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll in South Carolina gave Hillary Clinton a lead of 74 over Bernie Sanders’ 17% among black voters.
On February 11, the political action committee of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton as their Democratic presidential candidate, giving an added boost to her campaign.
“We must have a president that understands the racial divide, not someone who just acquired the knowledge recently but someone…who has lived it and worked through it down through the years,” CBC Chairman G. K. Butterfield told reporters on February 11.
Recognizing the need to do more to court the black vote, Bernie Sanders met civil rights leader the Reverend Al Sharpton in New York on February 10.
However, Al Sharpton declined to say which candidate he would back after the meeting.
It is still unclear who the winner of the Democratic contest will face in the Republican race, with Donald Trump, John Kasich and Ted Cruz finishing first, second and third in the New Hampshire primary.
Both Republican and Democratic parties will formally name their presidential candidates at conventions in July.
Americans will finally go to the polls to choose the new occupant of the White House in November.
Bernie Sanders has said his judgement is as important as the experience of his rival Hillary Clinton.
During the last Democratic debate in Iowa a week before the selection process begins, Bernie Sanders also admitted that he would raise taxes if he won, adding some families would still be better off.
Hillary Clinton once had a comfortable opinion poll lead in the state.
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are now running neck-and-neck. Martin O’Malley is a distant third.
Republican presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz have a clear lead over five other candidates seeking the GOP nomination.
During the CNN’s televised debate in Des Moines, Iowa, at which the three candidates appeared separately, Hillary Clinton praised the “poetry” of Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign but said the country was “governed in prose”.
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Her critics “throw all this stuff at me – and I’m still standing”, she said.
The Vermont senator, who has energized young voters with his call for a political revolution, repeated his pledge to “take on the greed of corporate America”.
Bernie Sanders contrasted his own commitment to a “Medicare-for-all” program and free public university tuition to Hillary Clinton’s vote to authorize the Iraq war and early support for the controversial Canada to Texas Keystone pipeline.
Hillary Clinton highlighted her “40-year record in going after inequality” and suggested Bernie Sanders was ill-equipped to face the tough challenge of being president.
She also said she was “really touched and gratified” to see comments from President Barack Obama in a Politico interview, in which he called her “wicked smart” and suggested Bernie Sanders benefited from “the luxury of being a complete long shot”.
Barack Obama has not endorsed any candidate and the Sanders campaign has applauded his “even-handedness” throughout the campaign.
Martin O’Malley, meanwhile, was cheered when he cited climate change as the issue young Americans should be most concerned about.
Democratic candidates have clashed on gun control and healthcare in their liveliest TV debate so far.
Hillary Clinton attacked Bernie Sanders’ record on gun control, and said his healthcare plan risked derailing recent legislation.
Bernie Sanders accused Hillary Clinton of being in the pocket of financial institutions responsible for the 2008 crisis.
While Hillary Clinton leads nationwide, Bernie Sanders is a threat in key states.
Hours before the debate in South Carolina, Bernie Sanders – a Vermont senator – had unveiled a healthcare plan for all American citizens.
This was the final Democratic debate before caucuses in Iowa on February 1 show who the state’s voters prefer as their candidate.
Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who is trailing Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in polls, also took part in the lively debate in which personal attacks were few and far between.
Bernie Sanders announced his universal healthcare plan two hours before the debate started.
Hillary Clinton said any moves to scrap the current Affordable Healthcare Act risked plunging the Democrats into “contentious debate”. Instead, the party should work on improving the program, known as ObamaCare.
Bernie Sanders responded: “Nobody is tearing this up.”
He said he wanted to build on ObamaCare.
Gun control was the first subject in the two-hour debate, that was held near a church in Charleston where nine parishioners were shot dead in June 2015.
Hillary Clinton released an advertisement this week attacking Bernie Sanders for his attitude towards gun control. His home state, Vermont, has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the US, with close to one in two households owning a weapon.
In the debate, Hillary Clinton again highlighted legislation she said showed that Bernie Sanders supported the gun lobby.
However, Bernie Sanders told the debate he had a “D minus voting record” from the National Rifle Association, and fully supported moves by President Obama for tougher background checks on gun buyers.
Martin O’Malley pointed out restrictions he passed against combat assault weapons in Maryland, adding: “I have never met a self-respecting deer hunter who needed an AR-15 [semi-automatic rifle] to down a deer.”
Polls indicate Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are neck-and-neck ahead of the caucus in Iowa, where voters will decide who they want as their preferred candidate. She had once commanded a large lead.
In New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders holds a lead in polls ahead of voting in the primary there eight days later.