Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton battled over their progressive credentials on Wednesday, with Sanders reminding voters the two made different decisions on backing the Iraq war, taking money from Super PACs, and on trade and energy policies.
Sanders, speaking at a televised town hall in Derry, New Hampshire, built on an earlier back-and-forth between the two candidates on Twitter and in appearances in the state, which hosts the next party nominating-contest on Feb. 9.
“Some of my best friends are moderates, but you can’t be a progressive and a moderate at the same time,” Sanders said at the town hall, hosted by CNN, citing his opposition to the Iraq war, refusal to take money from Super PACs and his agenda to phase out fossil fuels.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began to speak and take questions immediately after Sanders at the town hall.
“I was somewhat amused today that Senator Sanders has set himself up to be the gatekeeper on who is a progressive, because under the definition that was flying around on Twitter and statements from his campaign, Barack Obama would not be a progressive, Joe Biden would not be a progressive … so I’m not going to let that bother me,” she said.
Her campaign issued a press release during Sanders’ appearance, listing Clinton’s efforts “fighting for progressive causes” including health care and education.
“I know where I stand, I know who stands with me, I know what I’ve done,” Clinton said.
The two candidates arrived in New Hampshire on Tuesday after Clinton marked a narrow victory in the Iowa caucuses, the first nominating contest leading up to the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Sanders, an independent U.S. senator from Vermont who is running as a democratic socialist, is polling more than 15 points ahead of Clinton in New Hampshire, but is trailing her nationally by roughly the same amount.
During the town hall, Sanders made an appeal to minority and religious voters – blocs he will need to draw to the polls if he hopes to maintain momentum against Clinton in upcoming nomination contests in the South.
“We are reaching out as strongly as we can, for example, to the African-American community. And to the Latino community. And I think we are gaining more and more support in those communities,” he said.
“There will be no president who will fight harder to end institutional racism than I will,” he said.
Clinton, also a former first lady and former U.S. senator, has sought to manage expectations about her performance in next week’s New Hampshire primary, saying she’s disadvantaged by Sanders’ being from a neighboring state. But she shows huge polling leads in the next round of primary contests, in South Carolina and Nevada later this month.
Sanders’ campaign called Clinton’s comments an insult.
“The people of New Hampshire are serious about their role in the nominating process,” Sanders’ New Hampshire state director, Julia Barnes, said in the statement. “To repeatedly suggest otherwise is an insult to voters in the Granite State.”
In an interview with CNN, Sanders accused Clinton of being a progressive only “on some days.” And his campaign issued numerous tweets over the course of the day expanding on the theme.
Clinton called the comments “kind of a low blow.”
The results from New Hampshire could shift momentum in the Democratic race. Clinton, who had hoped for a strong finish against Sanders in Iowa to vanquish his insurgent candidacy, in New Hampshire hopes to overcome his polling lead.