Bernie SandersBernie Sanders Texas House Republican tests positive for coronavirus in latest breakthrough case In defense of share buybacks Progressives seething over Biden's migrant policies MORE attacked Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry negative images are defining White House Heller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll MORE harder than ever before in Saturday night’s second Democratic presidential debate, which opened on foreign policy but quickly shifted to economic and social issues.
A day after 129 people were killed in a coordinated terrorist attack on Paris, all three candidates began the contest with statements calling for the destruction of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has claimed responsibility.
Sanders, however, quickly pivoted to income inequality and campaign finance reform, themes of his campaign that has represented a surprisingly strong challenge to Clinton.
The Independent senator from Vermont was much more aggressive than in the first debate, which sapped his momentum and was widely seen as having been won by Clinton.
He linked Clinton’s vote in favor of the war in Iraq to the rise of ISIS, and later provoked Clinton by suggesting the former New York senator could not be trusted to regulate Wall Street given the “millions of dollars” she had received in campaign contributions from bankers in the district.
Clinton counter-attacked effectively at times during the debate, but also appeared to slip with some of her responses.
Accusing Sanders of impugning “my integrity,” Clinton even appeared to link the September 11, 2001 attacks to the generous donations she received from Wall Street.
“I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked. Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is,” she said. “I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York, it was good for the economy, and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country.”
Republicans immediately pounced on the comment with the Republican National Committee sending out an e-mail of the response from reporters on Twitter.
Clinton later said she did not mean to draw such a connection when one of the debate moderators brought up the subject by mentioning a message about it on Twitter.
“I’m sorry that whoever tweeted that had that impression because I worked closely with New Yorkers after 9/11 for my entire first term,” Clinton said. “I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York, it was good for the economy, and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked out country.”
Clinton in the last month has solidified her standing as the heavy favorite to win the Democratic nomination — in part because of her last debate performance.
And while her opponents had some solid moments on Saturday, it wasn’t at all clear that they had done enough to substantially change the race’s nature.
With only three candidates on stage instead of five in the last debate, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley stood out more.
Calling her financial reform proposals “weak tea,” O’Malley added that “we need to stop taking our advice from economists on Wall Street.” He also agreed with Sanders – and disagreed with Clinton – that Glass-Steagall, the financial regulations that President Clinton dismantled, needed to be reinstated.
Sanders hit Clinton’s proposals to regulate Wall Street as “not good enough,” while Clinton fired back that her proposals were stronger than Sanders’s.
Yet Clinton countered effectively, defending her record by saying “it’s pretty clear” that Wall Street knows she’ll vigilantly regulate the industry.
“Two billionaire hedge fund managers started a super-PAC and are advertising [against me] in Iowa as we speak, so they clearly think I’ll do what I said I’d do,” Clinton said.
The attacks on Paris appeared to give Clinton, a former secretary of State, another advantage in the debate — ensuring the contest would be steeped in foreign policy.
Yet Sanders sought to take Clinton on and appeal to liberal Democratic voters by raising the Iraq War.
Linking Clinton’s Iraq War vote to the ISIS-led terrorism, Sanders said: “I don’t think any sensible person would disagree that invasion of Iraq led to the level of instability we’re seeing now.”
“It was one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the history of the United States,” the Vermont senator added.
Clinton tried to use her experience as secretary of state to position herself as the strongest commander-in-chief of the Democratic presidential candidates amid a world roiled by radical jihadists.
She used her opening statement to address terrorism and framed the election as a choice over who would be the best commander-in-chief over the United States military.
Positioning herself to the right of President Obama – who famously said that ISIS has been “contained” – Clinton said: "We have to look at ISIS as a leading threat of an international terror network, it cannot be contained, it must be defeated.”
Sanders again declined to attack Clinton over her use of a private email server as secretary of State, a move some deemed a tactical mistake in the first debate.
In fact, Sanders denied that he had reversed course in telling the Wall Street Journal that questions about Clinton’s email were “valid.”
“That’s just media stuff. I was sick and tired of Hillary Clinton’s email, I’m still sick and tired of Hillary Clinton’s emails,” Sanders said to much applause. “I didn’t know I had so much power.”
Several moments during the debate could provide additional ammunition to Republicans expecting they’ll be taking on Clinton in November.
In addition to Clinton’s comments about Wall Street and September 11, she talked of activism on college campuses and her days as a college student in the 1960s.
“I come from the ’60s, a long time ago,” Clinton said in remarks that candidates seeking to cast her as a candidate of the past are sure to use against her.