Five things to watch for in post-NH Democratic debate

Five things to watch for in post-NH Democratic debate
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The Democratic presidential candidates will square off at a debate in Milwaukee, Wis., on Thursday night, just days after Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) Sanders If Congress takes no action, the Social Security trust fund will become depleted in 2034 Ex-campaign manager: Sanders is still eying another presidential bid DNC chair backing plan to cut superdelegates opposed by Dem lawmakers MORE steamrolled Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThere are many unanswered questions about FBI culture FBI agent who sent anti-Trump texts offers to testify on Capitol Hill Giuliani wants 'full and complete' investigation into Russia probe's origins MORE in the New Hampshire primary.

Sanders will take the stage with clear momentum on his side, having raised $6 million in the 24-hour period after his resounding primary victory. Clinton, meanwhile, enters amid questions and criticism over the direction of her campaign.

Expect the candidates to leave everything on the stage. This is the last Democratic presidential debate before the Feb. 20 Nevada caucuses, the Feb. 27 South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday on March 1, when more than a dozen states will vote.

Here’s what to watch for at the PBS-Facebook debate as Clinton seeks to reclaim her grasp on the race:

The battle for black voters

Clinton’s highest-profile African-American supporters are coming out swinging to help her lock down South Carolina, a must-win state where overwhelming support from black voters has boosted her to an early lead.

Clinton surrogates like Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a revered civil rights figure, have sought to frame Sanders as delinquent on the issues important to the African-American community.

“To be very frank, I never saw him, I never met him,” Lewis said Thursday of Sanders’s role in the civil rights movement.

That comment came as the Congressional Black Caucus PAC announced its support for Clinton, a fact she’s sure to highlight on Thursday night. The former secretary of State will also likely continue to bear-hug President Obama, as she’s done at other recent debates.

But Sanders is not taking the fight lying down.

After the New Hampshire primary, he jetted off to Harlem, N.Y., to meet with civil rights activist Al Sharpton and former NAACP President Ben Jealous, the latter of whom endorsed Sanders. 

The Vermont senator has already attracted the support of an impressive cadre of black luminaries, including writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, rapper Killer Mike, singer Harry Belafonte and activist Cornell West.

Expect the fight for African-American support to continue Thursday night, with a heavy focus on issues like police brutality, criminal justice reform and voting rights.

Will Clinton be the aggressor?

The gloves came off both candidates long ago, but Clinton is, at this point, battling the perception that she’s fighting for her political life, so expect her to come out sharp.

Democrats, frustrated by the direction of the Clinton campaign, have been pointing to her messaging as part of the problem.

Clinton has so far hit Sanders on guns; sought to frame him as inexperienced on foreign policy and called his plans impossible to achieve. But Clinton is undoubtedly sitting on some cards, waiting for the right moment to play them.

Sanders says he’s ready for it.

In his New Hampshire primary victory speech, Sanders said his foes have thrown everything at him but the kitchen sink.

“I have a feeling the kitchen sink is coming pretty soon,” he said.

Still, there’s risk for Clinton in this strategy. 

Sanders has galvanized young voters and much of the progressive base, and Clinton needs to keep from turning those voters off permanently if she’s to tap into their energy down the road.

Clinton’s controversies

Clinton has not given an adequate response yet as to why she accepted six-figure payments from Wall Street banks in exchange for speeches while she was secretary of State.

At debates and forums, Clinton has argued that the huge sums were merely the market rate for her services, and has said she’ll release the transcripts of those speeches when other candidates – presumably the Republicans running for president – do the same.

It’s all been easy pickings for Sanders, who has hammered away at the notion that Clinton is in the pocket of special interests.

Those assertions will haunt Clinton until she’s able to put the issue to bed.

Meanwhile, in a terrible bit of timing, The Washington Post reported Thursday that State Department investigators subpoenaed the Clinton Foundation for records relating to projects that required federal approval when Clinton was secretary.

It’s a story that falls at the nexus of all of Clinton’s controversies by furthering the appearance that she has accepted money in exchange for influence, and serving as a reminder that she is under investigation by the FBI for using a private email account and server. 

Sanders has so far steered clear of the email controversy and questions about payments made to the Clinton Foundation. The Wall Street speaking fees, however, fall right into his wheelhouse.

The establishment fight continues 

Clinton and Sanders have battled at previous debates over who is the “establishment” candidate. 

Clinton has repeatedly argued that there’s nothing as anti-establishment as seeking to become the first woman president.

Sanders has pointed to the grassroots energy surrounding his insurgent campaign as evidence he’s the outsider, while making the case the national party is tilting the field in Clinton’s favor.

Now, Sanders has more ammunition to make this case. He crushed Clinton in New Hampshire, but he and the candidates left the state with the same number of delegates.

Clinton didn’t earn as many delegates from the popular vote in New Hampshire, but went into election day with the support of several “superdelegates” – Gov. Maggie Hassan, Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenMembers of Congress demand new federal gender pay audit Overnight Defense: Trump hopes to normalize relations with North Korea | Senate defense bill would limit help for Saudis in Yemen | US to honor temporary Taliban ceasefire Senate defense bill includes limits on US support for Saudi campaign in Yemen MORE and several Democratic National Committee officials among them – who are free to support whomever they choose.

Those superdelegates can still switch sides. But liberal groups are making an issue out of it, and the perception that the superdelegates could override the popular vote isn't something that sits well with some in the party.

To date, the Clinton campaign has pointed to its superdelegate support as a means of calming nervous supporters. It’s evidence, they say, that Clinton remains in a strong position to win the nomination.

There's an opening for Sanders to argue that the establishment is seeking to steal the election from him, so Clinton will need to be ready to respond.

Surrogates in the spotlight

Clinton’s surrogates, including her husband, former President Clinton, have attracted criticism of late for some of the lines of attack they’ve launched against Sanders.

Clinton will have the opportunity on Thursday night to either seize those as her own or shut them down entirely.

Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBill Clinton hits Trump administration policy separating immigrant families in Father's Day tweet Trump's strategy for North Korea and beyond James Comey's higher disloyalty to America MORE’s assertion that Sanders supporters are sexist drew mockery from critics, who pointed to his past treatment of women.

And former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and feminist icon Gloria Steinem have provoked debate in liberal circles for criticizing young women who are backing Sanders over Clinton.

Those lines of attack have bothered some Democrats; Clinton faces a decision on how to respond.

The fresh set of attacks coming from Clinton’s African-American supporters that Sanders has never shown interest in their community will also likely be at the forefront.