Democratic town hall: Clinton, Sanders battle ahead of last meeting before Iowa Caucus

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) and rival candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (R). © Randall Hill
With only a week before primary season kicks off in Iowa, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders face each other in a final debate. The Democratic presidential hopefuls are neck-and-neck in the polls and are ramping up efforts to claim the critical state.

While Sanders was considered a longshot when he joined the race in May 2015, the self-described socialist has gained massive momentum in the months leading up to the first – and arguably most critical – electoral event of the nomination season, the February 1 Iowa Caucus.

READ MORE: Bernie gains double-digit lead on Hillary in New Hampshire – poll

This newfound competition has prompted Clinton, the establishment favorite, to accelerate her attacks against the Vermont senator.

Clinton has long used electability as the bread-and-butter of her attacks against Sanders, painting him as a candidate who is too idealistic and perhaps too radical to beat a Republican in the general election. While campaigning in Indianola, Iowa on Thursday, she said that she’s "not interested in ideas that sound good on paper but will never make it in the real world,” referring to Sanders’ plan of a European-style single-payer healthcare system.

However, this argument is beginning to lose its punch. A recent New Hampshire poll shows Sanders defeating all top Republican contenders by a much larger margin than Clinton.

“If you want somebody who is going to beat Donald Trump, who is going to beat the other Republicans, I think Bernie Sanders is that candidate," Sanders said while campaigning in Iowa last Tuesday.

The independent senator has hit back with attacks of his own, accusing Clinton of running a “desperate” campaign, as well as leveraging the fact that the former secretary of state has deep ties to Wall Street.

“I do not believe that you can get huge speaking fees from Goldman Sachs and then with a straight face tell the American people that you’re prepared to do what is necessary to take on the greed and illegal behavior on Wall Street,” Sanders said at a recent campaign stop, according to the Washington Post.

Perhaps attempting to not telegraph an air of desperation and negativity that Sanders has already criticized, Clinton has dialed back her attacks in the days leading up to the Iowa Caucus. Clinton, who served for four years as secretary of state in the Obama administration, is repositioning her rhetoric to say that she’s the true heir to President Barack Obama’s legacy.

"Let's build on what we have. We have been moving, in our nation, thankfully, in a positive, progressive direction. Maybe not as fast as some hope, but we keep moving forward," Clinton said Sunday on a stop in Marion, Iowa, according to CNN.

Sanders, however, has compared his competition with Clinton to her 2008 Iowa Caucus battle with then-candidate Obama, who won Iowa and the presidency despite criticism over his experience and policy proposals – criticism that mirrors what the two-term senator is facing today.

"Eight years ago, Obama was attacked for everything. He was unrealistic. His ideas were pie in the sky. He did not have the experience that was needed. But you know what, the people of Iowa saw through those attacks then and they're going to see through those attacks again," Sanders said.

Obama chimed in on the campaign in a Monday interview with Politico, and seemed to favor Clinton’s approach to the race. He said that he didn’t think that Sanders’ comparison of his Iowa run to the president’s own 2008 campaign was accurate.

"I think Bernie came in with the luxury of being a complete longshot and just letting loose," Obama said. "I think that what Hillary presents is a recognition that translating values into governance and delivering the goods is ultimately the job of politics, making a real-life difference to people in their day-to-day lives.”

However, the president admitted that Vermont senator is the more authentic of the two candidates. The Sanders campaign hasn’t been weighed down by a sense that he will shift in any direction to gain vote like Clinton’s has, such as with her sudden opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership; her new, stricter position on guns; or her change of heart on gay marriage.

"Bernie is somebody who, although I don't know as well because he wasn't, obviously, in my administration, has the virtue of saying exactly what he believes, and great authenticity, great passion, and is fearless," Obama said. "His attitude is, 'I got nothing to lose’."