WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton is beginning to draw contrasts with her chief Democratic rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, as they approach their first presidential primary debate next week.
Following the mass shooting in Oregon, Clinton quickly laid out her plan to address gun violence, an issue where Sanders has been at odds with some Democrats and fellow liberals.
In New Hampshire, Clinton points out distinctions in their respective college affordability plans. And before Democratic audiences, she speaks of her deep ties to the White House and party — a contrast, though she doesn’t mention it, with Sanders. He’s the longest-serving independent in Congress, and one who considers himself a democratic socialist.
While Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump and some of his rivals have gone after each other by name, Clinton, Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and the rest of the Democratic field have engaged in a more civil contest for their party’s nomination. Indeed, Clinton has praised Sanders for his advocacy on various issues and the enthusiasm he’s generated. But the Las Vegas debate next Tuesday should tease out where they differ.
Without making it personal, Sanders has long highlighted his differences with Clinton, from his vote against authorizing the Iraq war (Clinton notably backed the 2002 resolution but has since expressed regret) to his support for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
Clinton’s scrutiny of Sanders’ record is far more complicated. Here’s why: If she wins the Democratic nomination, she’ll need his’ die-hard supporters to energize her general election bid.
"Clinton will give them not necessarily everything they want but everything she can," said Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist who advised Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign.
Here’s a look at where Clinton and Sanders are drawing distinctions:
GUN CONTROL: Clinton vowed this week to tighten regulations on firearms buyers and sellers and proposed repealing a 2005 law that shields gun manufacturers, distributors and dealers from most liability lawsuits. Sanders supported the 2005 legislation at the time, with Clinton opposed. Sanders also voted against the 1993 Brady handgun bill, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
Sanders said after the Oregon shootings that the U.S. needs to strengthen the instant background check system, close loopholes allowing unlicensed dealers to sell guns and ban semi-automatic assault-type weapons. But in the past, he has pushed for a more centrist approach that would meet the needs of rural gun owners — like those in Vermont — while addressing gun violence in big cities. On Friday, he’ll headline a rally in Tucson, Arizona, where former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was seriously wounded in a 2011 shooting that killed six.
For Democrats, gun control could be a key difference. "I don’t think the Democratic Party is going to nominate a candidate who is lukewarm on addressing the epidemic of gun violence," said Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, a Clinton supporter.
COLLEGE AFFORDABILITY: Military veterans, lower-income students and those who complete a national service program, like AmeriCorps, could go to school for free in Clinton’s plan. Students would contribute wages from 10 hours of work per week, and she would give them new options for refinancing debt.
Sanders proposes free tuition at four-year public colleges and universities and would allow recent graduates to refinance debt at more favorable rates. He would not require students to work while going to school.
FOREIGN POLICY: Clinton’s team sees her time as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state as one of her strong suits, allowing her to talk about her foreign-policy experience. Sanders doesn’t have that experience. He helped oversee policies for veterans returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
Sanders says foreign policy is a matter of judgment, not experience, and many of the concerns he raised before the 2003 Iraq invasion came to fruition (he voted against both Iraq wars). That gives him a contrast with Clinton.
Syria could also serve as a dividing line between the two. Clinton has backed creating a no-fly zone in Syria to provide a safe corridor for refugees. Sanders is siding with the White House in opposing a no-fly zone, warning it could pull the U.S. into the Syrian civil war and lead to a "never-ending U.S. entanglement in that region."
TRADE: Sanders has blasted the 12-nation Pacific Rim trade accord, calling it a giveaway to Wall Street and large corporations that will cost American jobs. Clinton has avoided taking a position on the accord, which she helped lay the foundation for as secretary of state. She has said any agreement needs to protect jobs and raise wages for U.S. workers, but she’ll be under pressure to make her views of the deal known more explicitly. Congress is likely to vote next year.
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