WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton says she always expected tough competition in the Democratic presidential primary. It’s likely she didn’t expect it would come from Bernie Sanders, the rumpled independent senator from Vermont and a self-described democratic socialist calling for “political revolution.”
The surprise rivalry between Clinton and Sanders will be at the forefront as Democrats take the stage Tuesday in Las Vegas for the party’s first debate of the 2016 campaign. The senator and the former secretary of state will be joined by a trio of candidates who occupy the basement of early polls, each looking to change their fortunes with a breakout moment in prime time.
For months, Clinton and Sanders have circled each other cautiously and avoided personal attacks. But in recent days, both have shown that their preference to focus on policy doesn’t mean they won’t find ways to jab at each other.
Sanders, who has filled arenas with crowds in the thousands and matched Clinton’s fundraising take in the past three months, has cast the former secretary of state as a late-comer to the liberal positions he’s held for decades on education, the environment and the economy.
After Clinton announced her opposition to a sweeping Pacific Rim trade deal, a pact she had previously called the “gold standard,” Sanders said he was glad she’d come to that conclusion. Then he added: “This is a conclusion I reached on day one.”
Indeed, Clinton has increasingly moved to the left on domestic policy since announcing her campaign this spring, including voicing opposition to the Keystone XL oil pipeline and support for expansive gun control legislation. While she rarely mentions Sanders by name, she’s suggested her proposals are more realistic and well-formed than those espoused by the Vermont senator.
In an interview with NBC’s “Today Show” last week, Clinton took aim at Sanders call for free college tuition, a popular initiative among progressives.
“I’m a little different from those who say ‘free college for everybody,'” Clinton said. “I am not in favor of making college free for Donald Trump’s kids.”
For Clinton, a policy-heavy debate would be a welcome reprieve from the months of focus on her use of personal email and a private server during her four years as secretary of state. The controversy has overshadowed virtually every other aspect of her campaign and contributed to a decline in her standing with voters.
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