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DAVENPORT, Iowa — Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats offer double-talk on Veterans Affairs Dean drops out of DNC chairmanship race Sanders vs. Trump: The battle of the bully pulpit MORE tried to summon the spirt of 2008 at a rally here Friday evening while Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDemocrats miss warning signs, even in blue Maryland Robert Gates doesn't expect job in Trump administration Dean drops out of DNC chairmanship race MORE, speaking just a few blocks away, sought to put the ghosts of failure to rest.
Sanders, a Vermont independent senator, is locked in a virtual dead-heat with Clinton ahead of Monday evening’s Democratic presidential caucuses. Clinton is clinging to a lead of 2.5 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics polling average in Iowa, down from 12.5 points a month ago.
Sanders and his aides believe they can repeat the stunning achievement then-Sen. Barack Obama pulled off eight years ago, riding a groundswell of liberal enthusiasm to victory over Clinton. The Iowa result punctured Clinton’s supposed air of inevitability, and she never fully recovered.
Sanders did not directly invoke the 2008 race Friday, and he was introduced by the academic Cornel West, a frequent and fierce critic of Obama’s.
But the parallels to that earlier struggle were clear all the same, as he told an impassioned crowd of about 1,000 in a ballroom that “the energy, the momentum is with our campaign.” Democratic caucus-goers in the state, he insisted, had the capacity “to lead this country forward in a political revolution.”
There was no mistaking Clinton was in Sanders’ sights when he said, to cheers, that his campaign had made “the establishment just a little bit nervous” with its refusal to “play by their old rules.”
The Clinton campaign’s nerves will have been jangled even more by the Friday revelation that 22 emails on the private server she used while secretary of State have been classified as “top secret” and will not be released to the public. The new details give added heft to a controversy that already weighs on her candidacy.
Sanders made no mention of Clinton’s email troubles during his Davenport speech, but his campaign released a statement in his name a short time later.
“As I said at the first Democratic debate, there is a legal process in place which should proceed and not be politicized. The voters of Iowa and this nation deserve a serious discussion of the issues facing them,” the statement read in its entirety.
The campaign did not repeat his memorably supportive statement to Clinton from that October encounter in Las Vegas that “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.”
Clinton also made no reference to the email story while speaking in Davenport.
In the broader caucus battle, she is striving to present herself, not Sanders, as the rightful heir to Obama’s mantle.
She recalled the experience of being summoned to Chicago in the wake of the 2008 general election, when Obama asked her to serve as his secretary of State.
Noting the nation’s dire economic situation during that period, she said, to applause, “I don’t think President Obama gets the credit he deserves for digging us out of the ditch.”
And most vigorously of all, she sought to present herself as a defender of Obama’s achievement in shepherding the Affordable Care Act into law.
“Before it was called ObamaCare, it was called HillaryCare,” she said, in reference to her failed attempt to enact reform during her husband’s presidency.
She also continued her controversial attack on Sanders’ calls for a single-payer system of universal healthcare.
She insisted that Sanders “wants to start all over again. … He wants to pull the country into a contentious debate.”
Instead, she told her audience, “stick with the Affordable Care Act, stick with me on this.”
In a sign that battle lines may already have hardened in the Hawkeye State, few people seemed to be make the short walk from Sanders’ event to hear Clinton immediately afterward.
Clinton’s crowd was less rambunctious than the audience at the Vermont senator’s rally — but it was also larger.
The former secretary of State was introduced by her husband, former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonTrump flirts with Dems for Cabinet Ark. lawmaker wants Clintons' names removed from Little Rock airport Conway eyes top spot in Trump's outside political operation MORE. His speech was short — at least by his garrulous standards — and his voice, notably faint and hoarse, seemed to belong to a man older than his 69 years.
Bill’s diminished presence was a reminder of how much has changed since 2008, when some of his interventions on his wife’s behalf were overly fiery and, many believe, counter-productive.
The Sanders-Clinton race differs from the Obama-Clinton 2008 contest in other ways, too.
One is that Obama at that time was synonymous with soaring oratory. Even if his speeches contained plenty of implicit jabs at the Clintons, he sought to make the critique sing as well as sting.
Sanders, suspicious of most of the glitzier elements of modern politics, does not attempt to replicate that style. On Friday evening, his lengthy remarks were built around stark statements about the injustices he sees ailing the country — “youth unemployment is off the charts!”; “our campaign finance system is corrupt!” — and unvarnished promises to fix them.
There is no doubting the capacity of Sanders’ style to rouse the true believers. Chants of “Ber-nie! Ber-nie!” interrupted his remarks more than once.
But he displays neither the optimism of Obama in 2008 nor the personal sparkle — a brief mention by Sanders of his wife and family Friday was delivered with the same unsmiling countenance that accompanies his denunciations of Wall Street.
Monday night’s results will show whether Sanders’ appeal can be as expansive as Obama’s. But it is notable that Clinton herself appeared more conversational and at ease Friday night than she did campaigning in this state in 2008. She drew laugher from the crowd as she mocked TV commercials for drugs, among other things.
One thing has not changed from eight years ago, however. Clinton continues to portray herself as the Democratic nominee most able to strike fear into Republican hearts.
“The Republicans are trying so hard to beat me,” she said. “Oh man, it’s perversely flattering.”