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In debate, Sanders and Clinton appeal to minorities, women, seniors

By Ann Marie Awad   |   Feb. 11, 2016 at 7:30 PM
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MILWAUKEE, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders went at each other early and often Thursday night in the Democratic presidential debate in Milwaukee.

Moderators' first questions focused on the size of government under a President Clinton or a President Sanders, but both candidates eagerly jumped into the fray, fighting it out over healthcare.

"It would probably increase the size of the federal government by about 40 percent," Clinton said of Sanders' Medicare-for-all proposal.

"I don't know what economists Secretary Clinton is talking to," Sanders fired back, doubling down on his plan in which families would pay an extra $500 a year in taxes, but save $5,000 on health insurance.

"I think the American people deserve to know specifically how this would work," she replied, hammering Sanders on specifics. "If you have Medicare for all then you don't have the Affordable Care Act."

The testy exchange -- like many they've had in past debates -- set the tone for the night, as the two tried to differentiate themselves from one another.

How did they appeal to black and Hispanic voters?

The next primary contests take place in Nevada and South Carolina where the Hispanic and black votes will be major factors. Both candidates made overtures to both groups, as expected. Clinton got there first, though, mentioning African Americans, immigrants and women in her opening remarks.

Criminal justice reform took up a large part of the first half of the debate.

"A male African American baby born today stands a one-in-four chance of ending up in jail. That is beyond unspeakable," Sanders said when asked what he would do to cut down on mass incarceration. "I would hope that we can all agree that we are sick and tired of seeing videos on television of unarmed people, often African Americans, being shot by police officers.

"At the end of my first term as president, we will not have more people in jail than any other country."

Just like in the last debate, Clinton agreed with much of what Sanders had to say on the topic.

"We have to restore policing that will actually protect the communities that officers are sworn to protect," she said, adding that another problem was "systemic racism in this state, as in others, in education, in employment."

Both were asked if President Barack Obama had done enough to improve race relations in America. Clinton disagreed with the premise of the question.

"I think what President Obama did was to exemplify the importance of this issue," she said.

Sanders remained consistent with his message of solving income inequality, providing living wages and jobs.

"I think when you give low-income kids the opportunities to get their lives together, they are not going to end up in jail, they are going to end up in a productive economy," he said.

On whether white Americans had reason to be resentful of the government, Clinton said the feeling was understandable, given rates of alcoholism and addiction among poor white communities.

"I'm going to do everything I can to address distressed communities, whether they're white communities, communities of color," she said

Sanders once again said his agenda to combat income inequality would solve many problems facing those communities.

Sanders got a follow up question: when it comes to President Obama's actions on immigration, would Sanders go further? He didn't hesitate.

"The answer is yes. We've got 11 million undocumented people in this country," he said. "If Congress does not do the right thing, we use the executive powers of the president."

When it came to the recent deportation raids: "I disagree with his recent deportation policies, and I would not support those," Sanders said.

Clinton was up next.

"We should be deporting criminals, not hardworking immigrant families," she said. "I was one of the original sponsors of the DREAM Act."

Sanders struck at Clinton, bringing up the wave of unaccompanied minors who came into the United States from Central America two years ago, children Clinton said should be sent back.

"I made it very clear that those children needed to be processed appropriately," she responded. "We had to send a message to families not to send their children up here."

Sanders retorted that children should not be used to send messages.

How did they appeal to women?

Clinton was asked why women under 30 overwhelmingly voted for Sanders during the New Hampshire primary.

"I have spent my entire adult life working to make sure women have the right to make their own choices, even if that choice is not to vote for me," she joked.

Sanders explained his support among young women: "I have a lifetime 100 percent pro-choice voting record," as well as support for a bill to ensure equal pay for women currently in the Senate.

Sanders was asked whether he worried he may thwart the nation's first female president.

"I think a Sanders victory would be of some historical accomplishment as well," he said.

Clinton responded that she doesn't want people to vote for her just because she's a woman, but because she believes herself to be the most qualified candidate. She touted her endorsements from Planned Parenthood Action Fund and NARAL.

Sanders chimed in: "All over this country we have Republican candidates saying they hate the government," he said. "When it comes to a woman having to make a very personal choice ... then my Republican colleagues love the government."

"If that's not hypocrisy, I don't know what is," he added.

How did they appeal to seniors?

Sanders also spoke on how he would improve the lot of low income seniors.

"A great nation like ours should not be in a position where seniors are cutting their pills in half," he said. "If elected president, I will do everything I can to expand social security benefits not just for seniors but for disabled veterans as well."

Clinton pointed out that women on social security were at higher risk, particularly widowed women.

"I want to start by helping those people who are most at risk," she said.

Both favored pouring more revenue into the trust fund in the coming years.

How do they see Obama's legacy?

One key contrast between the two is how they view themselves as potential successors to Obama. Sanders was more willing to point out areas where he disagreed with Obama, reminding the audience that he and the president were friends and that Obama campaigned for Sanders in Vermont during Sanders' senate race. Clinton, on the other hand, disparaged Sanders for critical remarks he made about the president.

"I don't think he gets the credit he deserves," she said, implying it was unbecoming for a senator to criticize the president.

"Madam secretary, that is a low blow," Sanders said. "Have you ever disagreed with a president? I suspect you may have."

Clinton doubled down, pointing to Sanders' previous calls for the next president to be better at bringing people together, saying such a statement was critical of Obama.

"One of us ran against Barack Obama, I was not that candidate," Sanders said, getting the last word.

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