The Democratic presidential candidates engaged in a fiery debate over gun control Saturday night, lobbing barbs at one another as they pitched themselves as staunch advocates of tightening gun laws.
“Arming more people – to do what – I think is not the appropriate response to terrorism,” former secretary of state Hillary Clinton said, in a discussion that also involved national security.
Long-shot candidate Martin O’Malley, a former Maryland governor, went hard after both Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, accusing them of not being consistent advocates of gun control.
“Excuse me,” Sanders responded forcefully to O’Malley. “Do not tell me that I have not shown courage in standing up to the gun people.”
Clinton went after Sanders for his past record on guns, which has concerned some gun control advocates. She said she was pleased to see he has “moved” in face of the facts.
The exchange was in sharp contrast to Republican debates, in which there has been virtually no talk about tightening gun laws in the wake of terror attacks and other mass shootings.
Earlier Saturday night, Sanders apologized to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for his staff improperly accessing voter information gathered by Clinton’s campaign by taking advantage of a computer glitch in a database managed by the Democratic National Committee.
At issue is a master list of voter data that is key in targeting and fundraising efforts. The DNC rents it out to campaigns, which add their own proprietary information. The vendor that maintains the list said a computer error on Wednesday briefly allowed the campaigns to review information they would not normally be able to see.
“I apologize,” Sanders told Clinton at the final Democratic debate of the year. He also apologized to his supporters.
Clinton, whose aides have slammed Sanders over the incident, appeared eager to turn the page.
“We should move on, because I don’t think the American people are all that interested in this,” she said, after telling Sanders, “I very much appreciate that comment.”
The spat was set off this week when Sanders staffers accessed information gathered by Clinton’s campaign thanks to a computer glitch in a database managed by the DNC, drawing criticism from Clinton aides. The incident added an unexpected twist to the prime-time set-to, which had been poised to focus on foreign policy and national security.
Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said a staffer was fired over the matter, which he blamed on a software error caused by a vendor hired by the DNC.
On Friday, tensions escalated. Weaver accused the DNC of trying to help Clinton, and the Sanders campaign filed a lawsuit against the DNC for suspending its access to key voter information after the incident. Early Saturday, the DNC and Sanders issued statements saying that his access had been restored, though each side used tough language to talk about the other.
Meanwhile, Clinton aides expressed deep concerns about the Sanders campaign accessing the information.
“This was a very egregious breach, and our data was stolen. This was not an inadvertent glimpse into our data,” said Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook.
After the Sanders campaign and the DNC appeared to come to terms on an arrangement, Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon issued a gentler statement, saying, “We are pleased that the Sanders campaign has agreed to submit to an independent audit to determine the full extent of the intrusion its staff carried out earlier this week.”
Unlike the crowded 14-candidate Republican field, which was divvied up into two debates Tuesday in Las Vegas, just a trio of Democratic hopefuls remain in the mix.
Clinton, a former secretary of state; Sanders, a senator from Vermont; and Martin O’Malley, a former Maryland governor and long-shot candidate, took the stage at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, at 8:30 p.m. ABC News and the New Hampshire Union Leader sponsored the Democratic debate, which was the third of the campaign.
The debate came as Clinton holds a wide national lead over Sanders. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week showed Clinton ahead of Sanders, 59 percent to 28 percent, on par with her standing a month ago. O’Malley lagged behind at 5 percent.
The contest in the early states is closer, although Clinton has bolstered her standing in those places lately. Clinton led Sanders 48 percent to 39 percent in a recent Iowa poll conducted for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics. A Franklin Pierce University and Boston Herald poll of New Hampshire showed them running neck-and-neck.
Sanders, who is running as a Democratic socialist laser-focused on income inequality, is trying to make up ground in the race against Clinton ahead of the first nominating contest in Iowa on Feb. 1.
Clinton looked vulnerable earlier this year amid an uproar over her use of a personal email account during her time as the nation’s chief diplomat. But in recent weeks, she has steadied her campaign, emphasizing her positions on national security and running hard against the Republican field on national security.
Sanders on Thursday won the endorsement of the 700,000-member Communications Workers of America, a rare blow to Clinton’s powerful army of organized labor supporters.