After splitting the first two voting contests, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are taking their increasingly heated fight for the Democratic presidential nomination back to the debate stage Thursday night, jockeying for advantage as the race heads toward delegate-rich states.
For Clinton, that means bolstering her appeal with minorities, particularly black and Hispanic voters. Hours before the debate, a coalition of black lawmakers endorsed her, calling her a long-term partner who understands racial divides in America.
"African-Americans can’t wait for solutions — they need results now," Clinton said in a statement welcoming the backing of the Congressional Black Caucus’ political action committee.
The former secretary of state is banking on support from minorities to help her blunt Sanders’ broad appeal with young voters and liberals. Clinton narrowly defeated the Vermont senator in the Iowa caucuses, but was blown away by more than 20 points in the New Hampshire primary and now faces the prospect of a long campaign for the nomination.
Clinton’s showing in the first two states has prompted a round of second-guessing within her campaign, particularly over voter surveys showing her lagging far behind Sanders on questions of honesty and trustworthiness. Her team is also grasping for ways to clarify what’s seen as a muddled message, particularly when compared to Sanders’ ringing call for a "political revolution."
Sanders’ challenge is to prove that he can run a viable campaign outside of the overwhelmingly white states that kicked off the nominating process. His campaigns says it expects his impassioned calls for raising the minimum wage, breaking up Wall Street banks, and overhauling the current campaign finance system to resonate in more diverse states as well as it did in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Sanders has also been touting his own work on civil rights issues, including a mention on his campaign website of his "long history of fighting for social equality and the rights of black Americans — a record that goes back to the early 1960s." But in a preview of the fight to come between Clinton and Sanders, U.S. Rep. and civil rights leader John Lewis dismissed the senator’s work Thursday: "I never saw him. I never met him."
The Democratic contenders next go before voters in Nevada on Feb. 20 and in South Carolina on Feb. 27. But both campaigns are already eyeing contests in March, when more than half of all delegates up for grabs in the primary are at stake.
Clinton is expected to keep up the aggressive posture she took in the last Democratic debate, the first head-to-head matchup between the rivals. Her campaign wants to continue challenging the feasibility of Sanders’ domestic proposals, such as a government-run health care system and free college tuition, and pushing him on foreign policy, an arena where he’s far less comfortable than he is on economic issues.
Clinton is likely to find herself once again on the defensive over the high-dollar speaking fees she received from Wall Street banks after leaving the State Department. Sanders has relentlessly cast her dealings with Wall Street as an example of how the wealthy try to influence Washington, a message that has tapped into voter frustration.
Clinton so far holds a commanding lead in the overall delegate race due to her strong support from superdelegates, the party officials who can back the candidate of their choice.
Overall, Clinton has 394 delegates Sanders has 44. It takes 2,382 to win the Democratic nomination for president
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