40° Good Morning
40° Good Morning

Clinton, under gentle attack in Democratic debate, stresses experience

Hillary Clinton speaks during the CNN Democratic presidential

Hillary Clinton speaks during the CNN Democratic presidential debate, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. Credit: AP / John Locher

LAS VEGAS -- Hillary Clinton tangled with her Democratic rivals over Wall Street, guns and the Iraq War at their first presidential debate Tuesday night, while portraying herself as far more experienced and qualified than her lesser known opponents.

The five Democratic candidates broadly agreed on most issues and party themes -- especially economic inequality. Unlike the Republican field, they barely touched on immigration. And Clinton's effort to put her email controversy behind her got an unexpected boost from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

"Enough of the emails. Let's talk about the real issues facing America," he said.

Jabbing from the left, Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said Clinton wasn't tough enough on Wall Street "greed" nor strong enough on helping middle- and lower-income families. Clinton also faced criticism about her Iraq War vote while a New York senator and shifting views on gay marriage and environmental and trade issues.

To criticism that she's too moderate, Clinton said, "I'm a progressive. But I'm a progressive who likes to get things done."

Clinton battled back by calling Sanders too soft on gun control and noted that O'Malley had endorsed her in 2008. She contrasted her broad experience with that of her foes.

"I have the best track record" of getting things done, Clinton said. She name-dropped work on issues from the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden to China and climate change to show her range.

She noted that President Barack Obama, who attacked her pro-Iraq War vote during their 2008 primary battles, brought her into his Cabinet.

"He valued my judgment . . . in the situation room," she said.

O'Malley said that while he "respects what Secretary Clinton and her husband have done for the country," he repeatedly hears people on the campaign trail voicing a need for new leadership.

Unlike in the Republican debates, the rifts among the Democrats seemed nuanced and more subtle. They largely agreed on most issues.

They also largely refrained from direct, personal attacks, going for indirect hits instead.

For instance, Sanders called the Iraq invasion the "worst foreign policy blunder" in American history, though he didn't call her out by name.

But Sanders rushed to downplay her use of a private email server for official business while she was secretary of state.

Lincoln Chafee, a former governor and senator from Rhode Island, did directly criticize her on the issue, saying it undermined her "credibility."

Clinton said her email actions were legal "but not the best choice."

The forum was the first chance that her lower-profile challengers had to confront Clinton face-to-face as they try to upend what many Democrats see as her inevitable march to the 2016 nomination. It's a race that's seen O'Malley, Chafee and former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia struggle for attention and Sanders cut into Hillary's lead, somewhat surprisingly, including polling well ahead of her in New Hampshire, site of the first 2016 primary.

Sanders repeatedly went to his campaign theme: fighting "a casino capitalist process by which so few have so much."

"We need to take back our government from a handful of billionaires," the self-described "democratic socialist" said to a round of applause.

But Sanders was on the defensive on guns and his viability. When Clinton was asked if Sanders was strong enough on gun control, she said: "No, not at all."

Sanders said his opponents had to be realistic about rural residents' views and chances of getting gun laws passed in a Republican-led Congress.

"Gun control views are different in rural states . . . whether we like it or not," Sanders said.

Near the end, each candidate was asked to name which "enemy" he or she was most proud to make. O'Malley said his was the National Rifle Association; Chafee, the coal industry (on climate change); Vietnam veteran Webb, the enemy soldier who threw a grenade at him; and Sanders, Wall Street.

Clinton couldn't stick to one, saying: "In addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the Iranians and the Republicans."


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

News Photos and Videos