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Clinton, Sanders tangle in heated debate

Clinton, Sanders tangle in heated debate
© Getty Images

Hillary Clinton stormed out of the gate in Thursday night’s presidential debate, taking the offensive against Bernie Sanders as she finds herself on the wrong end of a deep gap at the polls in New Hampshire.  

An aggressive Clinton dominated early portions of the MSNBC/New Hampshire Union Leader debate, while Sanders later struck back on banking and campaign finance as the two squared off in the first one-on-one debate of 2016 just five days before the Granite State goes to the polls. 

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Clinton came into the debate seeking a jumpstart of momentum after Sanders fell within a hair's breadth of knocking her off in Iowa. While the former secretary of State squeaked out a win at the caucuses by just a 0.2 percent margin, Sanders is up by an average of 20 points in a RealClearPolitics average of polls in New Hampshire, a state she won in 2008.  

His team has trumpeted Iowa’s close results as proof that the two are political equals and hopes that a strong showing in New Hampshire will flip the script of the race.  

Clinton came out swinging on Thursday, arguing that the Vermont Independent's ideas are unachievable because “the numbers just don’t add up” in Sanders’s proposals, adding, "I'm not making promises that I cannot keep." 

She also hit back on the issue of who was a true progressive, a subject that has dominated the race over the past few days. 

“If we’re going to talk progressive, I don’t think it was progressive to vote against the Brady Bill five times,” Clinton said. “I don’t think it was progressive to vote to give gun makers immunity. I don’t think it was progressive to vote against Ted Kennedy’s immigration reform." 

And during a heated exchanged that elicited boos from the audience, she pushed back at Sanders's insinuation on the stump that she's in the pocket of Wall Street because she has taken donations from the financial industry.  

"I just absolutely reject that, Senator, and I don’t think these attacks by insinuations are worthy of you. Enough is enough. If you have something to say, say it directly. But you will never find that I’ve changed my view or my vote because of any donation I received," Clinton said.  

"I think it's time to end the very artful smear that you and your campaign have been carrying out over the past few weeks, and let’s talk about the issues that divide us.” 

But Sanders kept the pressure up on Clinton's ties to Wall Street when he suggested she undervalued the role of money in politics.  

“Let’s talk about why in the 1990s Wall Street got deregulated. Did it have anything to do with the fact that Wall Street spent billions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions? Well, some people might think that had some influence," he said.  

“Do you think there is a reason why not one Republican has the guts to recognize that climate change is real and we need to transform our energy system? Do you think it has anything to do with the Koch brothers and Exxon-Mobil pouring huge amounts of money into the political system?"  

The senator also pushed back at Clinton's characterization of herself as outside of the establishment because she's running to be the first female president. 

“What being part of the establishment is, last quarter, having a super-PAC that raised $15 million from Wall Street, that throughout one's life raised a whole lot of money from the drug companies and other special interests," Sanders said.  

Moderator Chuck Todd caught Clinton on her heels when he asked if she would be willing to release the transcripts from her paid speeches to groups including Goldman Sachs so that the American people could understand what she said to them.  

"I'll look into it. I don't know the status," she said.

"I can only repeat what is the fact, that I spoke to a lot of different groups with a lot of different constituents ... my view on this is, look at my record." 

In an issue that could dog her down the stretch, Clinton told the audience that she is "100 percent confident" that the investigation into her emails while at State will not implode her candidacy, pointing to Thursday's news that former Secretary of State Colin Powell and aides to former Secretary Condoleezza Rice had classified emails on their private email accounts. 

She found her comfort zone again on foreign policy, an issue her campaign has repeatedly used to contrast her service as chief diplomat to Sanderswho stumbled over his answer about withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. 

When Sanders rolled out his regular attack line on Clinton's vote to authorize the Iraq War in 2002, which he argued "created barbaric organizations like ISIS," she hit back. 

"A vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat ISIS," Clinton said.  

"We have to look at the threats that we face right now and we have to be prepared to take them on and defeat them." 

The two candidates faced off on the stage alone for the first time after Martin O'Malley ended his bid in Iowa, where he managed to win less than 1 percent of the vote. The two participated in a town hall on Wednesday night, but were not allowed to interact or appear on the stage together.   

The prospect of the debate itself was up in the air until Wednesday, when all parties finally agreed to a compromise that extended the debate calendar with four additional debates, including Thursday night's.