Democrats battle for edge in Iowa

  • By John Wagner, Abby Phillip and David A. Fahrenthold The Washington Post
  • Monday, January 25, 2016 9:01pm
  • Local NewsNation / world

DES MOINES — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attacked Republican front-runner Donald Trump — without ever saying his name — for denigrating Muslims with a call to bar Muslim foreigners from entering the country.

“It’s not only shameful and contrary to our values to say that people of a certain religion should never come to this country, or to claim that there are no real people of the Muslim faith who share our values,” Clinton said. “It’s not only shameful and offensive, which it is. I think it’s dangerous.”

Clinton said Trump’s rhetoric would hamper U.S. abilities to make alliances with majority-Muslim countries — and alienate U.S. Muslims as well.

Clinton used her segment of CNN’s three-candidate Democratic “town hall” to stress the central message of her campaign: that her wide experience in Washington makes her best-qualified to achieve liberal goals. She is trying repel a challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, who has called for more far-reaching policies and rejected Clinton’s approach as incrementalist.

Clinton was asked: Could she really work more effectively with Republicans, whom she referred to in one debate as her “enemies.”

“It was kind of tongue in cheek. And I consider them worthy adversaries, which they are,” Clinton told moderator Chris Cuomo. “When I’m actually in office, they say very nice things about me.”

Clinton spoke last of the three candidates. A young man in the audience — who supported that “democratic socialist,” Sanders — questioned Clinton’s honesty, an implicit reference to Clinton’s use of a private email server to hold government emails. She responded by saying, essentially: You haven’t been paying attention very long, have you?

“They throw all these things at me, and I’m still standing,” Clinton said of her foes, noting that she’s been targeted in past scandals, but has never been knocked down. But some people who are new to politics — “They go, ‘Oh my gosh, look at all of that” — and don’t understand the context, Clinton said, waiving her arms in mock panic. The real reason for the attacks, she said: “I’ve been on the front lines of change and progress since I was your age.”

The presidential contenders took the stage Monday in Des Moines, exactly one week ahead of the Iowa caucuses. The forum comes at a key juncture in the race, with recent polls showing Clinton’s once-formidable lead over Sanders having vanished.

Sanders went first, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley followed.

O’Malley faced a jarring question: If you don’t succeed, who should be your voters’ second choice?

O’Malley, not surprisingly, didn’t buy the premise of the question.

“Hold strong, at your caucus,” he said, as the crowd applauded. “Hold strong at your caucus, because America’s looking for a new leader.” O’Malley then repeated his youth-based argument, which held that Sanders and Clinton are leaders from the past: “We cannot be this fed up with the state of American politics and think a resort to old ideologies or old names is going to move us forward,” he said.

Sanders, during his 45 minutes on the stage, criticized Clinton for showing poor judgment on foreign policy and for moving too slowly to embrace liberal positions on Wall Street regulation and climate change.

He tried to rebut Clinton’s argument that her experience in Washington makes her a better candidate. “Experience is important. But judgment is also important,” he said, concluding a litany of contrasts with Clinton. He said that former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney also had a long Washington resume: “He had a lot of experience, too.”

Sanders was asked about a TV ad run by Clinton that implicitly knocked Sanders for his limited focus on economic issues. He stood up.

“This calls for a standing-up response,” Sanders said, getting to his feet. He began by saying that he respected Clinton’s record in public service. Then he listed all the things he felt she’d gotten wrong during that service, beginning with Clinton’s vote in favor of the Iraq war while she was a senator from New York.

“The truth is that the most significant vote and issue regarding foreign policy that we have seen in modern history is the vote on the war in Iraq. OK. That’s a fact. I voted against the war in Iraq,” Sanders said.

The format allowed people in the audience to ask questions. Sanders opened the forum by taking a question about a word that has shadowed his campaign since its beginning: what does “socialism” mean to him?

“What democratic socialism means to me is that economic rights, the right to economic security, should exist in the United States of America,” said Sanders, who calls himself a democratic socialist. He said the term means that government listens to the middle class as much as it listens to the rich, and that government helps students have access to college. “Creating a government that works for all of us, not just a handful of people on the top. That’s my definition of democratic socialism.”

Sanders was then asked about his plans for universal, government-provided health insurance. He made an admission that most candidates would be loath to make in any national forum: “We will raise taxes. Yes, we will.” But, Sanders said, that’s because government would take the place of private insurers — and his system would save money on balance for middle-class Americans.

Clinton’s campaign has said that Sanders’ plans would be both politically unworkable and alarmingly expensive.

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