Dems dig at each other

Clin­ton, San­ders jump head­long into party’s fi­nal pres­i­den­tial de­bate

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Lisa Lerer and Nancy Benac

charleston, s.c.» Ea­ger to rum­ble, Hil­lary Clin­ton and Bernie San­ders jumped head­long into Sun­day night’s pres­i­den­tial de­bate by tan­gling over who’s tougher on gun con­trol and sketch­ing sharply dif­fer­ing vi­sions for the fu­ture of health care in Amer­ica. It was the last Demo­cratic matchup be­fore vot­ing in the 2016 race be­gins in two weeks, with both sides in­tent on seiz­ing the mo­men­tum.

Clin­ton rapped San­ders, the Ver­mont sen­a­tor, for vot­ing re­peat­edly with the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion, and then wel­comed his week­end re­ver­sal of po­si­tion to sup­port leg­is­la­tion that would deny gun man­u­fac­tur­ers le­gal im­mu­nity. She rat­tled off a list of pro­vi­sions she said San­ders had sup­ported in line with the NRA: “He voted against the Brady Bill five times. He voted against what we call the Charleston loop­hole. He voted to let guns go on Am­trak, guns to go into na­tional parks.”

San­ders, in turn, said Clin­ton’s as­ser­tion that he kow­towed to the gun lobby was “disin­gen­u­ous” and pointed to his life­time rat­ing of a D- from the NRA.

On health care, San­ders re­leased his plan for a govern­ment-run sin­gle-payer plan just hours be­fore the de­bate, and used his open­ing state­ment to call for health care “for ev­ery man, woman and child as a right.” Clin­ton, by con­trast, urged less sweep­ing ac­tion to build on Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care plan.

Clin­ton sug­gested that a more ex­pan­sive ap­proach was dan­ger­ous — and un­re­al­is­tic. She said that un­der Obama’s plan, “we fi­nally have a path to uni­ver­sal health care. ... I don’t want to see us start over again with a con­tentious de­bate.”

San­ders coun­tered: “No one is tear­ing this up; we’re go­ing to go for­ward.”

The de­bate over gun con­trol — an on­go­ing con­flict be­tween Clin­ton and San­ders — took on spe­cial im­port given the set­ting. The de­bate took place just blocks from the Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church, where nine parish­ioners were killed dur­ing Bi­ble study last sum­mer. Gun con­trol has emerged as a cen­tral theme in the race, with Clin­ton cit­ing the is­sue as one of the ma­jor dif­fer­ences be­tween the can­di­dates.

On Satur­day night, San­ders an­nounced his sup­port for leg­is­la­tion that would re­verse a 2005 law he had sup­ported that granted gun man­u­fac­tur­ers le­gal im­mu­nity.

His changed po­si­tion came in a state­ment af­ter days of crit­i­cism from Clin­ton, who had at­tempted to use his pre­vi­ous vote to un­der­cut his lib­eral im­age.

Clin­ton im­me­di­ately cast the lat­est move as a “flip-flop.” San­ders said he backed the 2005 law in part be­cause of pro­vi­sions that re­quire child safety locks on guns and ban ar­mor-pierc­ing am­mu­ni­tion. He also said he sup­ported im­mu­nity then in part to pro­tect small shops in his home state of Ver­mont.

“There were things in it that I did not like, and I was will­ing to re­think,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We have rethought.”

For­mer Mary­land Gov. Martin O’Mal­ley, who has been stuck in sin­gle dig­its since an­nounc­ing his cam­paign last spring, also was on the de­bate stage. The evening of­fered per­haps his last chance to im­prove his stand­ing in the race.

The de­bate was spon­sored by NBC, YouTube and the Con­gres­sional Black Cau­cus In­sti­tute.

Getty Im­ages

Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, from left, Martin O’Mal­ley, Hil­lary Clin­ton and Bernie San­ders par­tic­i­pate in the Demo­cratic can­di­dates de­bate hosted by NBC News and YouTube on Sun­day in Charleston, S.C.

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