Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and rival Bernie Sanders assailed each other on Thursday over their judgement and experience before a rowdy crowd in a high-volume debate five days before a crucial New York nominating contest for the U.S. presidential election.
In their fifth one-on-one debate, Clinton and Sanders showed the mounting pressure of their marathon White House race with a series of heated exchanges on Wall Street, guns and other issues that featured the two of them shouting in unison while an evenly split crowd roared its support.
“If you’re both screaming at each other, the viewers won’t be able to hear either of you,” moderator Wolf Blitzer of CNN warned at one point at the debate in the New York borough of Brooklyn.
The last nine opinion polls taken in New York, a state where Sanders was born and Clinton served eight years as a U.S. senator, show her holding a double-digit advantage over him ahead of Tuesday’s New York vote, the next nominating contest on the road to a July national convention and the Nov. 8 election.
As the two-hour debate ended, the Brandwatch company which analyses social-media sentiment said Sanders had more than 173,000 mentions on Twitter, 55 percent of them positive, while Clinton had more than 191,000 mentions, 54 percent of them negative.
Sanders, who had questioned the former secretary of state’s qualifications to be president, conceded she was qualified but said she had shown poor judgement by taking money from Wall Street for speeches she gave, by voting as a U.S. senator to back the 2003 Iraq invasion and by supporting free trade deals.
“Does Secretary Clinton have the intelligence, the experience to be president? Of course she does but I do question her judgement,” Sanders said at the debate in the New York borough of Brooklyn.
“I question her judgement which voted for the war in Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country,” he said. “I question her judgement about running Super PACS that are collecting tens of millions of dollars from special interests … I don’t believe that is the kind of judgement we need.”
Clinton, 68, responded the charges were also an attack on President Barack Obama, who as a candidate raised money on Wall Street and utilized Super PACS, outside funding groups that can raise unlimited sums of money, but still fought for tough regulations on the financial services industry.
“This is a phony attack that is designed to raise questions when there is no evidence or support,” she said.
The debate took place at the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard, a sprawling facility now home to artists and businesses, including a distillery and a film studio. Supporters on both sides strove to out-shout one another from beginning to end.
DAILY NEWS INTERVIEW
Clinton said Sanders had shown his lack of depth on policy issues. She cited an interview with the New York Daily News editorial board where she said he was unable to clearly explain how he would achieve his oft-stated goal of breaking up the big banks.
“You need to have the judgement on Day One to be both president and commander-in-chief,” Clinton said.
Pressed on what Clinton had done to show she was influenced by the money she had raised on Wall Street or her speaking fees, Sanders said she was too busy giving speeches to Goldman Sachs to break up the big banks.
“He cannot come up with any example because there is no example,” Clinton replied. “I stood up to the behaviour of the banks when I was a senator.”
“Secretary Clinton called them out – oh, they must be really crushed by this,” Sanders said sarcastically.
Clinton, who has repeatedly attacked Sanders for his vote in Congress for a bill that protected gun manufacturers from being sued over the criminal use of their products, confronted the U.S. senator from Vermont when he laughed as she discussed her accusations.
“It’s not a laughing matter,” she said.
Asked about a Connecticut judge’s decision to side with victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting spree against gun manufacturers, Sanders said he did not owe the families of the victims an apology for his stance.
During the debate Clinton, who had supported raising the minimum wage to $12, said she would sign a bill raising it nationally to $15. But Clinton sidestepped questions about why she had not released transcripts of her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs.
Sanders, who has not released his full tax returns yet, said he would release his full 2014 returns on Friday.
BATTLE OVER ISRAEL
The two candidates also battled over support for Israel, with Sanders calling himself “100 percent pro-Israel” but adding that Middle East peace required treating “the Palestinian people with respect and dignity.”
He questioned what he said was Clinton’s too-firm commitment to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“There comes a time if we are going to pursue justice and peace that we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time,” Sanders said.
Clinton responded neutrally. “Nobody is saying that any individual leader is always right but it is a difficult position,” she said.
“Describing the problem is a lot easier than trying to solve it,” Clinton said, touting her experience as secretary of state in trying to settle the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
While far short of the brawls that have characterized Republican debates, the tone reflected a more contentious turn in the Democratic race.
Earlier on Thursday, Sanders denounced as “inappropriate and insensitive” a warm-up speaker’s call at a Manhattan rally for Sanders on Wednesday to stop electing “corporate Democratic whores,” a remark seemingly aimed at Clinton.
Sanders, 74, has won seven of the last eight state Democratic nominating contests, but most of those were small states that did not help him cut Clinton’s commanding lead in the race for the 2,383 delegates needed to win the nomination to represent the party in the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Clinton leads Sanders by 251 bound delegates to the July nominating convention. Her lead balloons to almost 700 when the support of superdelegates – party leaders who are free to back any candidate – are added.
Sanders faces a tough task cutting Clinton’s lead since Democrats award delegates in each state proportionally to the candidate’s level of support, allowing her to pile up delegates and draw nearer to the nomination even if she loses a state.
Sanders has pledged to battle all the way to the party’s July convention in Philadelphia, arguing superdelegates will switch to him once they realise the extent of his popular support. Clinton so far has 2.4 million votes more than Sanders in the state-by-state nominating race.