CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- The two leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination came here Friday for their first faceoff of the 2016 presidential race, sounding populist economic themes as they tried to win over the liberal voters likely to sway the Iowa caucuses.

Front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton and insurgent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) campaigned ahead of a dinner for hundreds of Democratic activists at which all five candidates for the Democratic nomination were to give keynote speeches.

At an afternoon rally to pump up a few hundred supporters, Clinton sharpened her attack against Republicans. She decried decades of what she called GOP "trickle-down" economics of tax cuts for wealthy people and corporations.

"I love it when the Republicans attack me" over her economic proposals, Clinton said. "I'm just sitting there thinking, 'You have a lot of nerve. We would never had been in that ditch if it had not been for those terrible economic policies and that lack of accountability that you all promoted.' "

Clinton scored one of her biggest bursts of applause when she praised President Barack Obama as turning around the economy after the last recession.

"President Obama deserves more credit than he's given for saving us from the great depression," Clinton said at the rally, held in the basement of the historic Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Cedar Rapids.

Clinton was trying to gin up enthusiasm ahead of the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame celebration dinner, which will be one of the first opportunities for activists here to compare her and Sanders.

A couple of hours earlier, in the grand lobby of the same building, Sanders held a news conference in which he vowed to break up the country's biggest financial institutions and condemned the influence of corporate money, especially contributions from banks such as Goldman Sachs, in politics.

Sanders attributed what he described as the erosion of the middle class, rising poverty and a growing divide between rich and poor to "the greed, the recklessness and the illegal behavior of the people on Wall Street."

When one reporter noted that the Clinton campaign had reported receiving at least $50,000 from employees of Goldman Sachs, Sanders was quick to state, "I didn't get any money from Goldman Sachs."

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"I don't want Wall Street's money," he added. "You have -- and let me underline the word -- a corrupt campaign finance system. And obviously what Goldman Sachs wants, what corporate America wants, what the Koch brothers want, is undue influence over the political process."

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee also are expected to speak at the Iowa Democratic dinner.