Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders highlighted the first Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday as the two leading candidates that clashed over gun laws, foreign policy and economy.
In the wake of deadly school shootings that increased the salience of policy positions on guns, Clinton took shots at Sanders for voting against a bill which would increase responsibility of gun manifacturers for gun violence and advocated for stricter gun control laws.
When asked whether Sanders is tough enough on guns, Clinton replied “No, not at all.”
“I think that we have to look at the fact that we lose 90 people a day from gun violence. This has gone on too long and it's time the entire country stood up against the NRA,” Clinton added referring to National Rifle Association, a large pro-gun NGO.
“We can raise our voices, but I come from a rural state, and the views on gun control in rural states are different than in urban states, whether we like it or not,” Sanders responded.
Despite their differences, Sanders came to Clinton’s help when she was questioned about her use of private emails while serving as the US secretary of state, an issue which led to immense criticism and hurt Clinton’s favourability among the voters.
Clinton reiterated her positions that her practice was “a mistake” and she turned over thousands of emails to the State Department for transparency.
Sanders interjected saying “Let me say something that may not be great politics, but I think the secretary is right,” and added “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.”
"Thank you Bernie,” Clinton responded and shook Sanders’ hand.
“Enough of the emails, let’s talk about the real issues facing America,” Sanders added urging the moderators and candidates to talk about policy propositions.
However, pleasantries were cut short when it came to foreign policy.
Sanders took a swing at Clinton describing the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which she voted in favor of while serving as US senator, as “the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of our country.”
On Syria, Clinton advocated her idea of a “no-fly zone” which would be imposed by an international coalition as a “leverage” to bring Russia to the negotiation table.
Sanders described the idea of a “no-fly zone” as “very dangerous” and added it could lead to real problems.
Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley gave a harsher response to Clinton saying “I believe a no fly zone in Syria at this time, actually Secretary would be a mistake.”
O’Malley had completed the stage of five candidates with the two other less known names former Virginia senator Jim Webb and former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee.
The three candidates, who have very low support levels in the polls, also received considerably limited speaking times compared to Clinton and Sanders.
Clinton, the front running candidate who was considered the most likely to win the nomination at the beginning of summer, is insistently trying to stop the surging poll numbers of Sanders, who got the top spot in the early primary state of New Hampshire and closed in on Clinton in national polls.
The former secretary of state also attacked Sanders criticising the economic prospects he proposed for the US.
“I think what Senator Sanders is saying certainly makes sense in the terms of the inequality that we have. But we are not Denmark. I love Denmark. We’re the United States of America,” Clinton said.
Sanders, who describes himself as a “democratic socialist”, fired back criticising the relationship between Wall Street and the politicians.
“In my view, Secretary Clinton, Congress does not regulate Wall Street, Wall Street regulates Congress,” Sanders said.
He also emphasized that he does not have a super-PAC, which allows supporters of a candidate to gather unlimited donations and usually employed by big money donors and corporations to support candidates they like.
“Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little, by which Wall Street’s greed and recklessness wrecked this economy? No, I don’t,” Sanders said also reiterating his criticism of income inequality in the US.
Democratic presidential candidates will have five more opportunities to face each other in nationally televised debates. Next debate is scheduled for Nov. 14 and will be held in Drake University in Iowa.