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Clinton, Sanders Face Off Last Time Before New Hampshire Primary

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The fight against ISIS and other foreign wars came up last night in the New Hampshire debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The two front-runners debated one last time before Democrats line up to vote in that state on Tuesday. In the debate, sponsored by MSNBC, the two also went after each other on Wall Street regulations, campaign finance and the best way to make political change. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The stakes were high for Hillary Clinton last night. Bernie Sanders has a huge lead in New Hampshire, and Clinton came determined to shrink it if she could. When Sanders condemned her for taking campaign contributions from big banks, repeating his familiar stump speech theme that the business model of Wall Street is fraud, Mrs. Clinton took it personally.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: You will not find that I ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation that I ever received.

BERNIE SANDERS: What...

CLINTON: And I have stood up.

SANDERS: You know...

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: So I think it's time to end the very artful smear that you and your campaign...

SANDERS: Oh, wow.

CLINTON: ...Have been carrying out in recent weeks. And let's talk about the issues. Let's talk about the issues that divide us.

SANDERS: Let's talk about - OK, let's - let us talk about issues.

CLINTON: And let's - we both agree with campaign finance reform.

SANDERS: Let's talk about issues.

CLINTON: I worked hard for McCain-Feingold. I want to reverse Citizens United.

SANDERS: Let's talk about issues.

CLINTON: And so let's talk about issues.

SANDERS: Let's talk about issues. All right, let's talk about why in the 1990s, Wall Street got deregulated. Did it have anything to do with the fact that Wall Street has spent billions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions? Well, some people might think, yeah, that had some influence.

LIASSON: A lot of the recent sparring on the campaign trail has revolved around who is the real progressive. Last night, Clinton said a progressive is someone who makes progress and implied Sanders was naive and unelectable. But, Sanders has kept Clinton on the defensive about the speaking fees she took from investment banks. She struggled to come up with an explanation. And last night, she tried again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: I think I may not have done the job I should in explaining my record, you know. I did when I left the secretary of state's office. Like so many former officials, I did go on the speaking circuit. And yes, I spoke to firms on Wall Street. They wanted me to talk about the world, what my experience had been as secretary of state.

LIASSON: Asked whether she would agree to release the transcripts of her speeches to private groups, Clinton said she would look into it. Most of the debate centered on domestic issues. That's what Democratic voters care most about. But, Clinton and Sanders also clashed over foreign policy. This is an area where Sanders readily admits he has less experience than the former secretary of state. But he says, he has better judgment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SANDERS: Where we have a different background on this issue is we differed on the war in Iraq, which created barbaric organizations like ISIS. Not only did I vote against that war, I helped lead the opposition, and if you go to my website...

CLINTON: If I could...

CHUCK TODD: Go ahead, 30 seconds, secretary.

CLINTON: If I could respectfully add, look, we did differ. A vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat ISIS. We have to look at the threats that we face right now, and we have to be prepared.

(APPLAUSE)

LIASSON: Clinton was asked about her private email server and whether she handled classified information correctly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: I never sent or received any classified material. They are retroactively classifying it. I have absolutely no concerns about it whatsoever.

(APPLAUSE)

TODD: All right, Madam Secretary...

LIASSON: Then it was Sanders' turn. He was asked about an ad he ran that implied he had the endorsement of an Iowa newspaper that had in fact endorsed Clinton.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SANDERS: We never said, never said that somebody, a newspaper, endorsed us that did not. What we did say is, blah, blah, blah, blah was said by the newspaper.

RACHEL MADDOW: Just to follow up on that, the title of the ad in question was "Endorsement."

SANDERS: But that was only for - that was not to be on television. That's important.

MADDOW: That's true. Secretary Clinton, do you want 30 seconds on this issue?

CLINTON: No.

LIASSON: The two candidates represent starkly different approaches to making change. He called for a political revolution. She said she was interested in making what we have work better. It was vision versus mechanics, pragmatism versus idealism. Clinton is betting that what she is offering will find more takers as the campaign moves on beyond New Hampshire. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Durham. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.

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