The Democratic race for president will take another twist on Thursday when Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clash in their first face-to-face debate since the Iowa caucuses.
The rivals have been swapping increasingly explicit attacks over who best represents the political soul of their party after finishing almost neck-and-neck in Iowa and moving to New Hampshire, where the Vermont senator enjoys a big lead.
The debate at 9 p.m. in New Hampshire airing on MSNBC comes a day after a combative CNN town hall meeting in which Clinton and Sanders feuded over who best represents progressive values.
Sanders argued that a candidate who has a super PAC and takes political contributions from people who work on Wall Street and voted for the Iraq War could never be seen as an authentic progressive. Clinton said she was amused that Sanders considered himself as the “gatekeeper” of what it means to be a progressive.
Ahead of next Tuesday’s New Hampshire Democratic primary, both candidates are likely to make the case that they best represent what the Democratic Party stands for.
“I do not know any progressive who has a super PAC and takes $15 million from Wall Street,” Sanders told CNN moderator Anderson Cooper on Wednesday night. “That’s just not progressive.”
Clinton, who appeared on stage after Sanders, said that she was amused he had become the judge of progressivism.
“So I’m not going to let that bother me,” she said. “I know where I stand.”
Sanders will likely seek to capitalize on Clinton’s uneven performance at the town hall. She sounded confident on policy and connected with the audience when she shared moments from her personal life but stumbled on topics that have dogged her throughout the campaign, including her vote on the Iraq War and her relationship with Wall Street.
Her toughest moment of the night came when she was asked to address the paid speeches she gave at Goldman Sachs after leaving the State Department.
Clinton started to explain that Goldman wasn’t the only group that paid her for speeches. But when Cooper interjected and asked, “Did you have to be paid $675,000?” Clinton appeared caught off guard.
“Well, I don’t know. Um, that’s what they offered,” she said.
Clinton went on to insist that at the time of the speeches, she was undecided on whether to seek the White House.
Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, found himself defending his own credentials as a member of the Democratic Party, noting that the party’s leadership on Capitol Hill has placed him in high-ranking positions on congressional committees.”Of course I am a Democrat and running for the Democratic nomination,” he said.
Sanders also pushed back on the suggestion that Clinton is a better general-election candidate than he would be.
Polls in New Hampshire suggest the primary will not be as close as the tight Democratic caucuses in Iowa. Sanders, riding his high favorability in a state that borders his stomping ground of Vermont, has a strong advantage, leading Clinton 55% to 37% in the latest CNN Poll of Polls.
Clinton, however, is the national front-runner and is looking to the South Carolina primary later this month to start demonstrating that she has wider appeal among ethnically diverse Democratic activists than Sanders.