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Democratic debate focuses on terror attacks, Wall Street

Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, walks back to the

Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, walks back to the podium as she passes by Bernie Sanders during a commercial break at a Democratic presidential primary debate, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo Credit: AP / Charlie Neibergall

The terrorist attacks in Paris forced foreign policy to forefront of the Democratic presidential debate last night, with rivals trying to separate themselves from Hillary Clinton by criticizing her record for initially supporting the Iraq War.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley also sought to dent Clinton, who has a huge lead in polls, on Wall Street. They sharply criticized her as being too close to big financial institutions and its executives, with O'Malley accusing her of supporting "crony capitalism."

With the field down to three candidates and the Iowa caucus less than three months away, Clinton's rivals delivered sharper attacks at the CBS forum from Des Moines, Iowa, than in their first debate in Nevada last month.

"I would argue that the disastrous invasion of Iraq, something that I strongly opposed, has unraveled the region completely," Sanders said, looking to put Clinton on the defensive. He referred to Clinton's vote, as a New York senator, to authorize sending troops to Iraq.

"I think that was one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the history of the United States," he said.

O'Malley also jumped in after Clinton said the fight against terrorism "cannot be an American fight, but American leadership is essential."

"I respectfully disagree with Secretary Clinton on this one," O'Malley said. "This actually is America's fight."

But looking to future policies and approaches against terrorism, there were fewer differences. In contrast to the Republican field, the three Democrats gave carefully nuanced answers regarding Islam. Clinton said the battle was with "radical jihadists," not the religion.

"When you're reaching out to Muslim nations . . . it's not helpful if they hear people who are running for president say, if they shortcut it, we are at war with Islam," Clinton said.

Several times, Clinton sought to portray herself as much more experienced and knowledgeable than her foes on foreign affairs, once invoking her recommendation to President Barack Obama to move forward with the operation to kill Osama bin Laden.

Turning to the economy, the Democrats agreed on raising the minimum wage, though Sanders backed $15 per hour while Clinton preferred $12. They all advocated making college more affordable and backed a "pathway to citizenship" for immigrants without documentation. That exchange allowed O'Malley to get off a line that drew big applause from the crowd.

"You'll never hear this from that immigrant-bashing carnival barker Donald Trump, but the truth of the matter is net immigration from Mexico last year was zero," O'Malley said.

Referring to Trump's vow to build a wall along the Mexican border, O'Malley said: "Our symbol is the Statue of Liberty, it is not a barbed-wire fence."

Midway through the debate, the focus shifted to the economy -- and her rivals took aim at Clinton. She was asked to defend taking large amounts of contributions from Wall Street, while trying to tell Americans she will rein it in.

"They know I will," she said, noting some Super PACs are fighting her now. She said her Senate record included compensation limits for CEOs. "I am going right at them," she said.

"Not good enough," Sanders said. "Why over her political career has Wall Street been the major political contributor to Hillary Clinton?"

"Wait a minute here, Senator," Clinton responded sharply: "He has basically used his answer to impugn my integrity."

Clinton said she had many small donors and that 60 percent of her donations came from females. But she pivoted her response to the Sept. 11 attacks, saying she, as a New York senator, helped Wall Street recover after the Sept. 11 attacks and "it was good for country."

O'Malley called Clinton's Wall Street policy "weak tea" and said "I won't be taking my orders from Wall Street. "Our economy was wrecked by the big banks on Wall Street," he said."

Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, used a question about how high he would raise taxes on big earners to get off a big laugh line.

"Not as high as under Eisenhower," Sanders said of the 90 percent top margin rate under the Republican president who served from 1953-61. "I'm not a socialist compared to Dwight D. Eisenhower."

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