DURHAM, N.H. — Fireworks flying in their first one-on-one debate, Hillary Clinton accused Bernie Sanders Thursday night of subjecting her to an "artful smear" while Sanders suggested the former secretary
of state was a captive of the political establishment.
The two Democrats kept up a markedly more contentious tone than when they last debated before the presidential voting in Iowa, and it signaled how the race for the nomination has tightened just days ahead of the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire Tuesday.
The two argued over ideas, over tactics and over who has the liberal credentials to deliver on an agenda of better access to health care, more affordable college, dealing with income inequality and more. Clinton was the main aggressor, saying Sanders could never achieve his ambitious and costly proposals. Then she took after the Vermont senator for his efforts to cast her as beholden to Wall Street interests because of the campaign donations and speaking fees she has accepted from the financial sector.
"It's time to end the very artful smear that you and your campaign have been carrying out," she said.
Sanders, for his part, suggested her loyalties were colored by a reliance on big corporate donors.
"Secretary Clinton does represent the establishment," he said. "I represent — I hope — ordinary Americans."
Clinton may say the right things, he suggested, but "one of the things we should do is not only talk the talk but walk the walk."
Where Clinton aimed considerable criticism at Sanders, the Vermont senator focused much of his fire on what he says is a political system rigged against ordinary Americans. He said that when a "kid gets caught with marijuana, that kid has a police record." But when "a Wall Street executive destroys the economy" and pays a $5 billion settlement, he has "no criminal record."
"That is what power is about, that is what corruption is about. And that is what has to change in the United States of America," he said.
Clinton, unwilling to cede the issue to Sanders, insisted her regulatory policies would be tougher on Wall Street than his.
"I've got their number," she said, "the Wall Street guys."
Clinton called Sanders' sweeping proposals on health care and education "just not achievable," while Sanders countered that Clinton was willing to settle for less than Americans deserve.