A refocused Democratic race, if not quite a reordered one, revealed itself in a sharp and needling debate Wednesday night.
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That focus is on the records of two rivals who have grown quite used to each other. Candidates who have developed an affinity for pointing out their respective weaknesses have clearly learned how to get under each other’s skin.
Coming off a stinging loss in a big industrial state, Clinton intensified her critique of Sanders. She at one point suggested that the Koch brothers support Sanders, citing an online ad one of their groups is running praising his stance on the Export-Impact Bank.
Clinton also suggested that Sanders supported efforts to “hunt down immigrants” by supporting anti-immigrant vigilantes –- a fresh attack designed for a forum being sponsored by the Spanish-language network Univision.
Sanders wouldn’t stand for it.
“That is a horrific statement, an unfair statement to make,” Sanders said of the immigration attack. “Madam Secretary, I will match my record against yours any day of the week.”
Clinton and Sanders are only debating each other every third day this week, with two days of voting squeezed in, too. Somehow, though, they found fresh nasty things to say about each other.
Sanders repeated his call for Clinton to make public the paid speeches she made to big financial institutions –- a line of attack designed to undermine trust in her.
“Clearly the secretary’s words to Wall Street has really intimidated them,” Sanders said. “That is why they have given her $15 million in campaign contributions.”
Despite any weariness they may have about facing each other yet again, both made clear that their paths to the nomination lean heavily on making the case against each other.
The debate was often more about small things than big ones. Even Donald Trump came up only a few times –- when Sanders said “yuge,” for instance -– and neither candidate chose to label the GOP frontrunner a “racist.”
In an emotional moment that quieted the crowd, Clinton said she would seek to reunite the family of a Guatemalan woman whose husband was deported.
“This is not easy for me. It's not easy to do what I think is right to help people, to even the odds,” Clinton continued. “I am not a natural politician, in case you haven't noticed, like my husband or President Obama.”
But the candidates ended the evening where they started it, and arguably where they started the campaign.