Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders battled over healthcare and Wall Street in their latest debate, with Mrs Clinton accusing Senator Sanders of misleading Americans on his healthcare plan.
In a sixth presidential debate that featured several sharp exchanges but a more sedate tone than their last meeting, Mrs Clinton said Senator Sanders’ proposal for a single-payer, Medicare-for-all healthcare plan would mean dismantling Obamacare and triggering another intense political struggle.
“Based on every analysis I can find by people who are sympathetic to the goal, the numbers don’t add up,” she said.
“That’s a promise that cannot be kept.”
Senator Sanders said he would not dismantle the healthcare plan known as Obamacare, and was simply moving to provide what most industrialised countries have: healthcare coverage for all.
“We’re not going to dismantle anything,” he said.
“In my view healthcare is a right of all people, not a privilege, and I will fight for that.”
Senator Sanders repeated his accusation that Mrs Clinton is too beholden to the Wall Street interests she once represented as a US senator from New York, noting her fundraising organisation received $15 million in donations from Wall Street.
Mrs Clinton said the donations did not mean she was in Wall Street’s pocket, and noted that President Barack Obama had taken donations from Wall Street during his campaigns.
With the presidential race moving into states with larger minority populations, both candidates decried the high incarceration rate of African-Americans and called for broad reforms of the criminal justice system.
Senator Sanders said black incarceration rates were “one of the great tragedies” in the United States.
Mrs Clinton entered the debate under acute pressure to calm a growing sense of nervousness among her supporters after a 22-point drubbing by Senator Sanders in the New Hampshire primary election and a razor-thin win last week in the Iowa caucus.
For his part, Senator Sanders, an independent from Vermont who calls himself a democratic socialist, hoped to harness the momentum and enthusiasm he gained from the first two contests and prove he can be a viable contender to lead the Democratic Party to victory in the November 8 presidential election.
Mrs Clinton will be better positioned in Nevada and then South Carolina as she seeks to profit from the coalition of black and Latino voters who helped propel Mr Obama into the White House in 2008.
But she must try to blunt Senator Sanders’s momentum without alienating the young voters, including young women who are flocking to his “political revolution” message, or risk a devastating campaign implosion