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Clinton goes on offense against Sanders at Democratic debate

CHARLESTON, S.C. - U.S. Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton accused top challenger Bernie Sanders on Sunday of being inconsistent on how to rein in Wall Street and unrealistic in his proposed healthcare overhaul, in a broad offen...

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) and rival candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (R) speak simultaneously at the NBC News - YouTube Democratic presidential candidates debate in Charleston, South Carolina January 17, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill

CHARLESTON, S.C. - U.S. Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton accused top challenger Bernie Sanders on Sunday of being inconsistent on how to rein in Wall Street and unrealistic in his proposed healthcare overhaul, in a broad offensive aimed at stemming his rise in opinion polls.

Clinton, who leads in polls nationally but has seen Sanders gain in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, tried to raise questions repeatedly about the self-styled democratic socialist at their last face-to-face encounter before Iowa holds the first nominating contest of 2016 on Feb. 1.

Casting herself as a candidate who would embrace President Barack Obama's agenda and build on it, Clinton went after Sanders not just on Wall Street and healthcare but also on gun control. The debate was staged in Charleston, South Carolina, not far from an African-American church where nine people were shot to death last year.

Their sharpest exchange was over how to crack down on Wall Street.

Clinton said Sanders, as a senator from Vermont, had voted to deregulate the financial market in 2000 in a way that led to the central causes of the financial collapse of 2008 that pitched the U.S. economy into a deep recession.


Sanders fought back, saying Clinton had accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees as a former secretary of state from Wall Street backers.

"Can you really reform Wall Street when they are spending millions and millions of dollars on campaign contributions and when they are providing speaking fees to individuals? So it's easy to say, 'I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that,' but I have huge doubts when people receive money from Wall Street."

Clinton tried to undercut Sanders' support among Democrats who voted for Obama.

"He's criticized President Obama for taking donations from Wall Street. And President Obama has led our country out of the great recession. Senator Sanders called him weak, disappointing, he even in 2011 publicly sought someone to run in a primary against President Obama," she said.


Clinton pounced on Sanders' "Medicare-for-all" plan that was announced just hours before the debate and came in response to Clinton's criticism of his previous record on healthcare over his career as a U.S. senator.

The former secretary of state, former U.S. senator and wife of former President Bill Clinton said Sanders' healthcare plan would undermine Obama's signature Affordable Care Act at a time when Republican legislators are still trying to repeal and replace it.

"I have to say I'm not sure whether we're talking about the plan you introduced tonight or the plan you introduced nine times over 20 years," she told Sanders. "But the fact is we have the Affordable Care Act. ... We have already seen 19 million American get insurance."


Sanders said he wanted to build on the Obama law by making health insurance more affordable.

"Nobody is tearing this up," he said, referring to the program popularly known as Obamacare. "We're moving forward."

Sanders' rise in the polls threatens to derail Clinton's presidential plans for the second time. In 2008, Obama defeated her in the race for the Democratic nomination.

He referred to his rising poll numbers in saying he believed he could expand his number of supporters to include more African-American voters, noting that when his presidential campaign began, Clinton was 50 percentage points ahead of him in the polls.

"Guess what: In Iowa, New Hampshire, the race is (now) very, very close," he said.

Clinton also accused Sanders of being weak on gun control. She welcomed Sanders' decision on Saturday night to back a bill in Congress rescinding portions of a law giving gunmakers immunity from lawsuits.

But she said Sanders' record showed a more lenient attitude toward the demands of the National Rifle Association (NRA) gun lobby.

"He voted to let guns go on Amtrak (trains), guns go into national parks. He voted against doing research to figure out how we can save lives. Let's not forget what this is about: 90 people a day die of gun violence in our country," Clinton said.


Sanders defended himself, saying he has a strong record on trying to prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands and standing up against the powerful NRA.

Sanders has pulled into a statistical tie with Clinton in recent polls in Iowa, whose caucuses are the first contest in the race to pick a nominee for the November election. He also leads Clinton in the next state to vote, Vermont neighbor New Hampshire, on Feb. 9, according to polls.

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