Hillary Clinton will try to gain some momentum after her lopsided loss to Bernie Sanders in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, as they face off again on Thursday at another Democratic presidential debate in Wisconsin.
“PBS Newshour” is the host, with Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff as moderators, so the environment could be quite different from that of the news networks, where there has been an emphasis on drama and confrontation.
Still, Clinton is expected to accentuate differences with Sanders, and perhaps try to gain some ground among millennial voters, which, based on exit polls from New Hampshire, are her weakness.
Sanders, meanwhile, is trying to make headway among African-American and Latino voters as he faces the caucuses in Nevada on Feb. 20 and the South Carolina primary on Feb. 27. His campaign has been unveiling endorsements from such figures as Ben Jealous, the former president of the NAACP, and entertainer Harry Belafonte, but on Thursday the focus was on Clinton’s backing from the Congressional Black Caucus. One of its members, civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), said he “never saw” Sanders at student organizing events and activities in the 1960s, even though Sanders has often talked about that aspect of his biography.
Follow along for live updates below:
9:00 ET: The Intro. This is PBS, and the biggest apparent difference is the intro — clips of Sanders and Clinton on the trail, and that’s it. It is more staid than that of the news channels, who have been starting their debate coverage as if it were a sporting event or movie trailer.
9:08 ET: Reaching millennials. Clinton acknowledged on Tuesday that she has work to do in reaching young voters. In her intro, she very quickly noted that “there aren’t enough good paying jobs, especially for the young,” and actually gave approval to a signature line that Sanders has been using on the trail. “Yes, the economy is rigged, especially for those at the top.” Interestingly enough, President Barack Obama also gave credence to the notion that the economy is “rigged” in a fundraising appearance in San Jose on Thursday. “People are deeply concerned about inequality in the sense that the system is rigged against ordinary folks … and they’re not wrong,” Obama said, according to a pool report.
9:18 ET: Big government. Clinton claims that Sanders’ plans will expand the size of government by 40%, what with his proposal for free college tuition and single-payer healthcare. “The numbers don’t add up,” she says, characterizing his plans as promises that cannot be met. But Sanders defends his healthcare plan as more cost effective, eliminating the need for insurance companies. “That is absolutely inaccurate,” he says as Clinton disputes his claims. This may very well be a key line of attack from Clinton going forward, that Sanders is “over-promising.” “I will not throw us further into debt. I believe I can get the money I need by taxing the wealthy,” she says.
9:25 ET: “Not in the White House yet.” Sanders opens a response to one of Clinton’s criticisms with the line, “Secretary Clinton, you’re not in the White House yet.” Bet that will get plenty of replay.
9:26 ET: “Special place in hell.” Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, acting as a Clinton campaign surrogate in New Hampshire last weekend, created some waves when she said that there was a “special place in hell” for women who don’t help other women. That didn’t sit too well to some Sanders supporters, including young women, with the implicit message that they should be supporting Hillary because of her gender.
Asked about Albright’s remark, Clinton said, “I think that she has been saying that for as long as I have known her, for about 25 years.” She’s right. Albright repeats it fairly often, although it’s probably a good bet the Clinton campaign wishes she didn’t say it out on the trail. They ended up losing the women’s vote in New Hampshire.
Clinton says that women shouldn’t be compelled to vote for her just because she is a woman. Instead, she cited her experience and qualifications.
She also says, as an aside, “We have gotten about 200 presidential primary debates, and this is the first time we have had a majority of women on the stage.” She was referring to the fact that this is the first debate co-moderated by two women, Ifill and Woodruff.
9:47 pm ET: White resentment. After the candidates talk about the disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans and the high rates of unemployment among African-American youth, Clinton is asked about working class white resentment. She answers by saying that she is “deeply concerned with what is happening in every community in America,” noting the increasing rate of alcoholism, addiction and mortality. She says that she has a plan to revitalize the coal country and “I am going to do everything I can to address distressed communities.” Sanders is asked whether it is even right to be framing these issues as a matter of race. He says yes, “we can talk about it as a racial issue but it is a general economic issue.”
9:47 pm ET: Child deportation. Sanders attacks Clinton for not backing a plan to allow child migrants from Honduras to stay in the United States when she was secretary of state. “These are children leaving countries and neighborhoods where their lives are at stake,” he says. Clinton, however, says that she “made it very clear that those children needed to be processed appropriately.” She said that there also was a great concern of families sending their children on a dangerous journey to the U.S., often with smugglers.
10:00 pm ET: Good SuperPAC, Bad SuperPAC. In previous debates, Clinton has dismissed Sanders’ inference that just because she has accepted Wall Street donations, she is bound to be influenced by the money. So she is asked whether Democratic donors are different from Republican donors, with Woodruff noting that a SuperPAC supporting her has received big donations from George Soros and Donald Sussman. “It’s not my PAC,” Clinton says, noting that it operates independently of her campaign. The PAC is Priorities USA Action, which also backed President Obama’s reelection campaign and has drawn seven figure sums from Haim Saban, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg. She also compares her campaign to Sanders’ campaign, noting that she has received contributions from 750,000 donors, the “vast majority” in small sums.
“Let’s not insult the intelligence of the American people. People are not dumb,” Sanders says, charging that there is a reason that wealthy individuals are giving, to gain influence.
The Clinton campaign sent out an email contending that Sanders has drawn more than $1 million in SuperPAC support, even though he has said he does not have one. The group National Nurses United has been backing Sanders’ candidacy but, like all SuperPACs, is required to operate independently of his campaign.
10:24 pm ET: Henry Kissinger. Sanders is trying to puncture Clinton’s foreign policy experience, characterizing her as too willing to embark on “regime change” with her vote in favor of military intervention in Iraq and in Libya, which has descended into an unstable region. But perhaps his most curious line of attack is by bringing up Clinton’s book, in which she wrote that she looked to Kissinger for guidance. “I am proud to say Henry Kissinger is not my friend,” Sanders says. Kissinger is an elder statesman on the right, but despised on the left, and considered by late writer Christopher Hitchens as a war criminal. Sanders accuses him of triggering “one of the worst genocides in the history of the world” in Cambodia during the Nixon administration.
Clinton defends seeking Kissinger’s counsel, noting his role in opening up relations with China. She also gets in a dig at Sanders.
“I know journalists have asked, ‘Who do you listen to on foreign policy?’ And I have yet to learn who that is,” she says, while noting that she has sought advice from a number of experts.
10:49 pm ET: The Obama question. Clinton attacks Sanders for making “the kind of criticism I expect from Republicans” about President Obama. She was referring specifically to a blurb that Sanders gave to a book by Bill Press, “Buyer’s Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down.” She has been playing up her support for Obama, a reflection of his continued popularity among Democrats and, by noting Sanders’ criticisms, a reminder that he has not been a Democrat but an independent. (Translation: fringe left).
Sanders calls her attack a “low blow,” saying that there were areas where he disagreed with “a president who has done such an extraordinary job.” “The blurb said that the next president has got to be aggressive about bringing people into the political process,” he says.
“One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate,” he says.
11 pm ET: The wrap. A subdued start to this debate morphed into a much more confrontational one-on-one in the second hour.
Sanders was much more proactive than in previous debates in taking on Clinton on foreign policy, an area where her experience is her strength. He once against brought up her vote for the war in Iraq and criticized her desire for “regime change.” By bringing up Kissinger, he was questioning her judgment in seeking foreign policy advice, although he was doing so with a figure of the Nixon and Ford era who many voters would have to name-check on Wikipedia.
Clinton sought to call out Sanders on his previous remarks about Obama, and did so with some deft. Why did he do that blurb for a book called “Buyer’s Remorse”? As Sanders pointed out, it wasn’t he who actually ran against Obama, as she did.
Clinton’s closing remarks were her strongest, as she said, “I am not a single issue candidate, and I do not believe we live in a single-issue country” — a dig at Sanders. She certainly did herself good in the room by slamming Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin who is still an enemy of the state’s progressives. She got the bigger applause as she closed.
Was it a draw? Maybe so. Twitter’s stats showed a 50%-50% split among Clinton and Sanders in Twitter mentions.