Sanders' hit on Clinton not the first

2016-04-08 21:09
(Matt Rourke, AP)

(Matt Rourke, AP)

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Des Moines - Bernie Sanders' claim that Hillary Clinton isn't qualified to be president landed with a boom this week. The blow was far from the first - and won't likely be the last - from the candidate who pledged to stay away from negative campaigning.

The Vermont senator kicked off his insurgent presidential bid last year with a pledge to focus on issues over character attacks and boasted often that he's never run a negative ad. But for months Sanders has sharply criticised Clinton, slamming her for supporting the war in Iraq; for her record on trade and most aggressively for her lucrative paid speeches before Wall Street bankers.

While his tone has shifted as the race has grown more combative on both sides, Sanders' campaign argues that he has kept his promise. They say he has focused his fire on policy and is simply fighting back against Clinton's own attacks.

Direct questions

"They're going after us very big-time and in a very negative way," Sanders said in an interview on Friday. "And I wanted to make very clear that we will not be a doormat...we will not be attacked without responding. And my point was to focus on the issues where I thought she was lacking."

The conflict between the two flared this week ahead of the crucial April 19 New York primary.

On Wednesday, Clinton questioned Sanders' truthfulness and policy know-how though she avoided direct questions about whether he was qualified to be president.

Still, Sanders seized on the remarks at a rally that night, telling a crowd of thousands that Clinton has been saying that he's "not qualified to be president.

"I don't believe that she is qualified if she is, through her super PAC, taking tens of millions of dollars in special-interest funds," he said, referring to outside funding groups that can accept unlimited donations as long as they don't coordinate with the campaign.

Upcoming primaries

Clinton aides and supporters pushed back aggressively. A fundraising email sent out shortly after from Christina Reynolds, the Clinton campaign's deputy communications director, said Sanders had "crossed a line," calling it a "ridiculous and irresponsible attack."

Sanders said in the interview  that "by definition, she has a great deal of experience. No one can debate that. But I think in terms of judgment," he said, pointing to her vote to authorise the Iraq war, supporting past trade deals and allowing super PACs to support her campaign. "I think those are judgment calls that call into question whether she should be elected president."

The increased scrapping comes as the surprisingly competitive Democratic race heads into the high-stakes final contests. Sanders has been on a winning streak, but still must take 68% of the remaining delegates and uncommitted super delegates to win the Democratic nomination. That would require blow-out victories in the upcoming primaries.

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