FOCUS: Things to Watch for in Democrats’ Debate

WASHINGTON (McClatchy Washington Bureau/TNS) —
A supporter of US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders holds a campaign poster and a US flag as he arrives for primary night rally in Concord, New Hampshire, on February 9, 2016. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
A supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders holds a campaign poster and a U.S. flag as he arrives for the primary night rally in Concord, New Hampshire, on Tuesday. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Get ready for Round 2.

Thursday’s presidential debate will mark only the second time that Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have engaged in a one-on-one face-off. The first time, a week ago, was a combative debate that left both sides reeling from attacks.

With the Iowa and New Hampshire contests showing a split in the Democratic Party, another energetic back-and-forth between the candidates over their different philosophies and approaches to governing is expected.

The two-hour debate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, starting at 9 p.m. EST, will be the last before a series of contests in Nevada and South Carolina, as well as on Super Tuesday, March 1.

Here’s what to look for.

Clinton’s Strategy

Clinton must decide how she will alter her strategy two days after her 20-point loss to Sanders in New Hampshire, a state where she has enjoyed success in the past, and a week after her disappointing razor-thin win in the Iowa caucuses.

“We’re going to take stock: what works, what doesn’t work,” Clinton said on MSNBC this week. “We’re moving into a different phase of the campaign.”

Her concession speech Tuesday night offered hints at a new message to persuade voters that she understands them and can make their lives better. “People have every right to be angry,” she said. “But they’re also hungry — they’re hungry for solutions.”

She will continue to look to the more diverse states of Nevada and South Carolina, where she expects to do better. She will campaign with African-American women who have lost children to gun violence and will tout her work investigating racial discrimination in Alabama and registering Hispanics to vote in Texas.

Sanders on Foreign Policy

Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, often seems a bit out of his element when speaking about foreign policy, especially when compared to Clinton, a former secretary of state.

Hours after the terrorist attack in November in Paris, Sanders barely mentioned terrorism in a debate when questioned — totaling about 20 seconds — before switching back to his standard stump speech.

Last week, Democrats and Republicans alike panned his simplistic answers at the fifth debate, when he avoided answering a question about how long U.S. ground troops should stay in Afghanistan and fumbled a response about who led North Korea.

Time and time again, Sanders has acknowledged that Clinton has more experience in foreign policy. But he has said judgment matters, too, as a way to note that Clinton voted for the war in Iraq, and he didn’t.

The United States faces complex issues around the globe, from battling the Islamic State to countering Russia’s aggression. Sanders should be better prepared to respond to foreign policy questions in this debate, unless he wants to completely cede that issue to Clinton.

Wall Street Money

Clinton needs to find a better way to respond to criticism that she and her campaign accepted donations and speaking fees from Wall Street, including Goldman Sachs.

Clinton had been hammered for saying she did not regret accepting $675,000 for three speeches from Goldman Sachs. “Well, I don’t know. That’s what they offered,” she said with a shrug.

Minimum Wage

In Nevada, home to the next Democratic contest on Feb. 20, activists are pushing to raise the minimum wage, and may get the question on the ballot in November.

Democrats have been working to increase the federal minimum wage, but some — including Clinton and Sanders — disagree on the amount.

Sanders introduced legislation to hike the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. He called the current federal minimum wage — $7.25 an hour — “a starvation wage,” and said employees who worked 40 hours a week “have a right not to be living in poverty.”

Clinton prefers $12 an hour, saying she’s concerned a higher rate would be too much for rural areas or smaller cities that have lower costs of living. She does back local efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15. But she noted last July that “what you can do in L.A. or in New York may not work in other places.”

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