Unlike the Republican presidential primary, which thanks in large part to Donald Trump has been chock full of personal attacks between the candidates, the race on the Democratic side has been a mostly cordial affair. But that may be changing.
Following days of positive headlines for Hillary Clinton, her chief rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) took the gloves off Saturday night at Iowa’s famous Jefferson Jackson dinner, delivering a broad critique of her political career and her leadership on issues Democratic primary voters hold dear.
Without ever evoking Clinton’s name, Sanders touted his consistent opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement the former secretary of state once said would be the “gold standard” of trade deals but recently came out against.
“It is not now, nor has it ever been, the gold standard of trade agreements,” Sanders said.
Sanders also cited Clinton’s support of the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 while her husband was in the White House and her vote in 2002 in support of the Iraq war, two measures he opposed even though doing so wasn’t popular at the time.
“I promise you tonight, as your president I will govern based on principle not poll numbers,” Sanders said, remarks reminiscent of a 2007 speech then-senator Barack Obama gave at the same event that vaulted him past Clinton.
Sanders and other Democrats have in the past accused Clinton of leading from behind on issues dear to primary voters, but Saturday’s broadside signals a new, more personal phase in the campaign after two other declared contenders dropped out of the race last week and Vice President Joe Biden announced he wouldn’t mount a campaign.
Clinton’s camp has certainly noticed a shift.
“I think Bernie Sanders seemed to have a course correction in the [Jefferson Jackson] dinner from one in which he said he wasn’t going to go negative to — to obviously focusing his, you know, his fire on her,” John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chair, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
He also accused Sanders of going back on his pledge not to launch negative attacks on his fellow contenders.
Of course, Clinton herself wasn’t shying away from the new tone of the campaign.
In her speech at the dinner, she referred to comments Sanders made during the first Democratic primary debate that she was “shouting” about gun control. The two clashed over the issue during the debate, with Clinton putting Sanders on the defensive for his support of legislation some consider as being pro-gun.
“Well, first of all, I’m not shouting. It’s just when women talk some people think we’re shouting,” Clinton said in Iowa, suggesting Sanders was guilty of sexism.
Sanders flatly rejected that notion on Sunday in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“I certainly do not have a problem with women speaking out. And I think what the secretary is doing there is taking words and misapplying them,” he said.
“What I was saying is if we are going make some progress on dealing with these horrific massacres that we're seeing, is that people have got to stop all over this country talking to each other. It's not Hillary Clinton,” Sanders added.
Pressed further on Clinton’s comments, he said: “Well, what can I say? That's just not the case. That's wrong.”