NEW HAMPSHIRE – Hillary Clinton is fighting back.
A veteran of political brawls, Clinton on Thursday flashed genuine anger and disbelief that Bernie Sanders, her Democratic primary rival, is casting doubt on whether she had been an authentic warrior in the left’s great battles against Republicans.
The former secretary of state angrily accused Sanders of delivering an “artful smear” by suggesting her political favor could be bought by rich donors.
“If you have something to say, say it,” Clinton said as she and Sanders met at a presidential debate in New Hampshire broadcast on MSNBC.
A fight has been brewing between Sanders and Clinton for days over who is the most genuine progressive after the Vermont senator said that she could not be a moderate and a progressive at the same time as they spar five days before their next nominating clash, in the New Hampshire primary.
The Sanders assault clearly angered Clinton, who vociferously defended herself as a progressive who gets results and has spent decades working on children’s rights and health care.
“I am not making promises that I can’t keep,” she said.
Clinton said that by Sanders’ definition of progressive politics, there would be nobody left in the movement, including President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, who was a hero to liberals.
“I don’t think it was particularly progressive to vote against the Brady bill five times,” Clinton said, referring to past votes by Sanders on gun control.
Sanders hit back by pointing out that Clinton had referred to herself as a moderate at an event in Ohio last year. And he said that Obama and Biden had done a “fantastic job” pulling America back from the Great Recession.
“Do I think President Obama is a progressive? Yes, I do,” Sanders said, though the candidate added that he disagreed with the President on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.
Sanders billed himself as the true outsider candidate in the race, while suggesting that Clinton was the candidate of the establishment. He argued that she would never be able to get money out of politics because she has a multimillion-dollar Super PAC.
At one point, as their tempers started to flare, Clinton and Sanders spoke over the top of one another as they sparred over the definition of progressive politics.
“Instead of arguing about definitions, let’s talk about what we should do (as president),” Sanders said.
Clinton shot back: “You began it yesterday with your comments,” referring to Sanders questioning her progressive credentials at Wednesday’s CNN town hall.
Polls in New Hampshire suggest the primary will not be as close as the tight Democratic caucuses in Iowa. Sanders, riding his high favorability in a state that borders his stomping ground of Vermont, has a strong advantage, leading Clinton 55% to 37% in the latest CNN Poll of Polls.
Clinton, however, is the national front-runner and is looking to the South Carolina primary later this month to start demonstrating that she has wider appeal among ethnically diverse Democratic activists than Sanders.