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Sanders, Clinton Take The Stage In Milwaukee For Their 6th Debate


Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton sparred last night in one last debate before voters go to the polls in Nevada and South Carolina. Sanders, of course, is coming off his big win in New Hampshire. Now he's looking to connect with minority voters who make up a larger segment of the electorate in the upcoming contests. Clinton, meanwhile, was trying to regain her footing. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hillary Clinton came to the PBS NewsHour debate in Milwaukee with a mission. She wanted voters to vet Sanders' proposals, which she thinks are vague, unrealistic and too expensive. When he refused to put a price tag on his Medicare for All plan, she said we should level with the American people.


HILLARY CLINTON: My price tag is about $100 billion a year, and again, paid for. And what I have said is I will not throw us further into debt. I believe I can get the money that I need by taxing the wealthy, by closing loopholes, the things that we are way overdue for doing. And I think once I'm in the White House, we will have enough political capital to be able to do that.


CLINTON: But I am conscious of the fact that we have to also be very clear, especially with young people, about what kind of government is going to do what for them and what it will cost.

GWEN IFILL: Senator.

SANDERS: Well, Secretary Clinton, you're not in the White House yet.

LIASSON: Sanders was dismissive and sometimes sarcastic last night, perhaps a sign of confidence after his big win in New Hampshire. Both candidates were asked by moderator Gwen Ifill about Clinton's history-making candidacy.


IFILL: Senator, do you worry at all that you will be the instrument of thwarting history, as Sen. Clinton keeps claiming, that she might be the first woman president?

SANDERS: Well, you know, I think, from a historical point of view, somebody with my background, somebody with my views, somebody who has spent his entire life taking on the big-money interest, I think a Sanders victory would be of some historical accomplishment as well.


CLINTON: You know, I have said many times, you know, I am not asking people to support me because I'm a woman. I'm asking people to support me because I think I'm the most qualified, experienced and ready person to be the president and the commander in chief.

LIASSON: The Clinton campaign hopes now that Sanders has emerged as a real contender for the nomination. His record will get the same scrutiny as Clinton's has. Last night, with an eye on Nevada's big Hispanic electorate, she pointed out that Sen. Sanders had voted against comprehensive immigration reform in 2007 while she voted for it.


CLINTON: And with respect to the 2007 bill, this was Ted Kennedy's bill, and I think Ted Kennedy had a very clear idea about what needed to be done, and I was proud to stand with him and support it.


JUDY WOODRUFF: I'd like...

SANDERS: Well, let me just respond. I worked with Ted Kennedy. He was the chairman of my committee, and I loved Ted Kennedy. But on this issue, when you have one of the large Latino organizations in America saying vote no and you have the AFL-CIO saying vote no and you have leading progressive Democrats, in fact, voting no, I don't apologize for that vote.

LIASSON: Clinton has deep support among black voters in South Carolina, and she wants to prevent Sanders from making inroads there. So she brought up his criticisms of President Obama, who is a revered figure in the African-American community.


CLINTON: Today, Sen. Sanders said that President Obama failed the presidential leadership test. And this is not the first time that he has criticized President Obama. In the past, he's called him weak. He's called him a disappointment. He wrote a forward for a book that basically argued voters should have buyer's remorse when it comes to President Obama's leadership and legacy.


SANDERS: Madam Secretary, that is a low blow. I have worked with President Obama for the last seven years.

CLINTON: Calling the president weak, calling him a disappointment, calling several times that he should have a primary opponent when he ran for re-election in 2012...

SANDERS: One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.

LIASSON: For the most part, Sanders was relentlessly on message. Whether the question was about race relations or foreign policy, he managed to turn his answer back to the corrupt campaign finance system and the rigged economy. Clinton stuck to her pragmatic progressive approach, but she did try to strike a more aspirational tone that could match Sanders' idealistic call for a political revolution. I want to break down all the barriers that are holding people back, she said. I'm not a single-issue candidate. Mara Liasson, NPR News. 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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