By Stephen Zubrycky & Anthony Capote, Editors
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont met former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for a fierce debate at the Navy Yard in Brooklyn Thursday, marking the last televised debate before New York’s Democratic presidential primary –possibly the last such event of the primary calendar.
The two remaining Democratic candidates debated on a multitude of topics – including gun control, the financial system, racism, and foreign affairs. The debate was the most contentious between the two candidates thus far, and opened with a lively exchange in which Sanders tore into Clinton over her judgment.
“I do question her judgment. I question a judgment that voted for the war in Iraq – the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country,” Sanders said.
Clinton retorted by denying Sanders’ claim that he didn’t call her unqualified.
“Senator Sanders did call me unqualified. I’ve been called a lot of things in my life. That was a first,” Clinton responded. “Well, the people of New York voted for me twice to be their senator from New York, and President Obama trusted my judgment enough to ask me to be the Secretary of State of the United States.”
The response summed up Clinton’s strategy for the evening: wrap herself tightly around the legacy of President Barack Obama, and emphasize her career as a hometown politician in New York, even telling C.N.N. moderator Dana Bash “Dana, you know, I love being in Brooklyn.”
Throughout the two-hour debate, Clinton said Obama’s name 18 times, compared to Sanders’ three times.
The candidates also entered a particularly sharp exchange over guns, with Clinton firing on Sanders for his votes against the Brady Bill. Sanders charged back, touting his D-minus voting record with the National Rifle Association.
Sanders also challenged Clinton on her relationship with Wall Street. Clinton charged back and challenged Sanders to release his tax documents in return.
“When everybody does it, OK, I will do it, but let’s set and expect the same standard on tax returns. Everybody does it, and then we move forward,” Clinton said.
Sanders responded, “I am going to release all of the transcripts of the speeches that I gave on Wall Street behind closed doors, not for $225,000, not for $2,000, not for two cents. There were no speeches.” Sanders released his 2014 tax returns this past weekend.
Sanders is trying to make up ground in New York, a state where he needs to do well in order to close Clinton’s lead in pledged delegates. Sanders has struggled thus far in large, diverse states. Clinton has triumphed in all of the five largest contests thus far, in Texas, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio. The Sanders camp disagrees, and attributes Clinton’s successes to an age gap, not a racial gap.
“What you’ll see is that our base, with voters of every color, are young voters,” said former C.E.O. of the N.A.A.C.P. Ben Jealous, a Sanders supporter. “The biggest divide amongst voters in the democratic party in this race is not black and white, it’s young versus old.”
But the Sanders camp is still downplaying expectations before New York votes.
“This is her home state. She’s going to do well. Independents can’t participate in the Democratic primary, and that’s the group we’ve done best with,” said Tad Devine, a chief Sanders strategist.
Regardless, both sides came out of the debate finding fault with the other, and declaring victory.
“Sen. Sanders raises some important issues, but it’s not clear to me how he’s going to get some of these issues resolved,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. expressed similar concern, saying of Sanders that “I don’t think he has an answer as to how he would dissolve the banks, and what he would replace them with.”
Higher education went unmentioned in the debate for the first 94 minutes, when Sanders brought it up, but there was not a single question on the topic during the debate.
Another topic of discussion that was not mentioned during the debate was New York State’s closed primary, which requires that voters register a full year before the election. The law could bar young voters, who make up Sanders’ primary fan base, from registering and voting him on Tuesday.
D.N.C. Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who spent much of the evening before the debate talking about voter suppression, had little to say about the law.
“That’s a state law that has been on the books for I don’t know how long,” she said. “That’s not voter suppression, that’s just the rule that’s been in place for a long time.”
Wasserman-Schultz said she was pleased with the overall outcome of the debate.
“Our debate, like the previous eight, focused on the substance,” Wasserman-Schultz said. “We shouldn’t focus so much on the edginess, as we should on the substance, which I’m quite proud of, when it comes to the issues they spoke about.”
She sais that she was proud of the overall tone of the Democratic primary as opposed to their Republican opponents.
“You contrast with the chaos that’s going on the other side, and I think the choice, after each debate, has been more and more clear that the Democratic nominee, regardless of which two of these candidates it will be, will be the forty-fifth president,” Wasserman-Schultz said.