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.