Moderate. Democratic socialist. Independent. Democrat. Liberal. Progressive. Establishment. Not establishment. Progressive who likes to get things done.
Those are all labels the two Democratic presidential candidates have used to describe themselves in recent months, and the debate over which candidate is what was on full display on Thursday night.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders clashed in a full-frontal assault over the wing of the Democratic Party they best represent, with Sanders accusing Clinton of being a part of the establishment and Clinton proudly touting her establishment support.
“Our campaign is a campaign by the people, for the people,” Sanders said. “Secretary Clinton does represent the establishment. I represent, I hope, ordinary people.”
Clinton replied by accusing Sanders of not being progressive on gun control and immigration reform. “If were going to get into labels, I don’t think it was particularly progressive to vote against the Brady Bill five times,” said Clinton. “I don’t think it was progressive to vote against Ted Kennedy’s immigration bill.”
Sanders then shot at Clinton for taking millions of dollars in speaking fees from Wall Street institutions and to fuel her campaign, falling back on familiar lines. “What being part of the establishment is in the last [fundraising] quarter having a super PAC that raised $15 million from Wall Street, and throughout your life raised a whole lot of money from Wall Street and special interests,” Sanders said.
Clinton defended herself, saying Sanders was implying she lacked integrity. “You will not find ever that I have ever changed a view because” of campaign donations, Clinton said. “I think it’s time to end the very artful smear that you and your campaign has raised.”
Clinton and Sanders also debated their healthcare proposals on Thursday. Sanders has pushed hard for a single-payer healthcare system that would require a middle-class tax increase to support universal, and Sanders says cheaper, health coverage. Clinton argued Thursday night that Obamacare should be improved, not replaced.
The debate comes with Sanders leading substantially in New Hampshire polls. Clinton is hoping to take a bite out of his lead and undermine his victory here by saying that he has a neighboring state advantage. (Sanders is from the state next door.) Sanders will likely tout his high volume of small-dollar donations: he outpaced Clinton in fundraising in January with $20 million brought in compared with Clinton’s $15 million.
It took days of wrangling and negotiations to get the two of them on the stage, with Sanders insisting on holding debates later in the cycle in exchange for the Thursday debate.