Commodities: Bernie Sanders Sharpens His Campaign’s Tone Against Hillary Clinton in Iowa

Sun Oct 25 00:48:22 2015 EDT

By Colleen McCain Nelson And Peter Nicholas

     DES MOINES--Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders aimed his sharpest jabs to date at Hillary Clinton, criticizing her
evolving views at a moment when the former secretary of state is gaining momentum in the race for the Democratic
presidential nomination.

     The polite tone of the Democratic contest took an unmistakable twist at Iowa's Jefferson-Jackson dinner on
Saturday, when Mr. Sanders, who entered the race vowing not to attack his opponents, painted Mrs. Clinton as someone
who made the wrong choices for the wrong reasons on some of the most momentous matters facing the country.

     With the Iowa caucuses now 100 days away, the three candidates contending for the Democratic nomination made their
pitches to 6,000 activists at a fundraiser that has become an important proving ground for presidential aspirants.

     Mrs. Clinton, who has notched several political wins in recent days, made scant reference to the Vermont senator
in her remarks, focusing instead on her prescriptions for shoring up the middle class.

     She seemed to suggest, though, that Mr. Sanders might not be electable in the fall of 2016, even if some Democrats
relish his attacks on what he calls the "billionaire class."

     "It's not enough to rail against Republicans or the billionaires," Mrs. Clinton said. "We have to win this
election!"

     Mr. Sanders didn't mention his main rival by name, but he asserted that he has long been on the right side of
progressive issues, while suggesting Mrs. Clinton has belatedly echoed his views. He highlighted his long-standing
opposition to the Pacific trade accord that Mrs. Clinton once said sets the "gold standard" for such agreements. She
announced earlier this month that she would oppose the deal.

     "It is not now, nor has it ever been, the gold standard of trade agreements," Mr. Sanders said. "I did not support
it yesterday. I do not support it today. And I will not support it tomorrow."

     He also swiped at Mrs. Clinton's previous support for the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as
between a man and a woman, and he appeared to question her recently announced opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline,
an issue on which she remained silent for the first several months of her campaign.

     "If you agree with me about the urgent need to address climate change, then you know immediately what to do about
the Keystone pipeline," Mr. Sanders said. "This was not a complicated issue."

     Mrs. Clinton has said in the past that she has been consistent but has absorbed new information on some issues.

     During Mr. Sanders's speech, packed with jabs at Mrs. Clinton, her press secretary Brian Fallon tweeted: "Can you
tell -hillaryclinton has had a very good month?"

     For Iowans, who will hold the first presidential nominating contest in 2016, the dinner was a chance to take the
measure of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders, the leading candidates in what has become essentially a two-person race.

     The Democratic field was thinned this week, when former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and former Virginia Sen.
Jim Webb abandoned their bids for the nomination. And Vice President Joe Biden's decision to forgo a presidential
campaign set up a Clinton-Sanders battle for the Democratic base, with former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley still
struggling to gain traction.

     In her speech on Saturday, Mrs. Clinton stuck to familiar themes from the campaign trail, saying the U.S. must
take steps to strengthen the middle class, expand the use of renewable energy and overhaul the criminal justice system
because "black lives matter." She took pains to praise Vice President Joe Biden, who said on Wednesday that he would
stay out of the presidential race and not challenge her for the party nomination. A Biden endorsement is a Clinton
campaign goal.

     Mr. Biden, she said, has "fought passionately for middle class families and middle class values...Let's give it up
for Joe Biden!"

     Mrs. Clinton arrived in Iowa in the midst of a victory lap after a 10-day stretch that included strong showings in
the first Democratic debate and on Capitol Hill, where she testified for several hours in front of a Republican-led
House committee. Mr. Biden's announcement earlier this week also removed a potential obstacle for the former secretary
of state, opening up a smoother path for Mrs. Clinton's campaign.

     Still, former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a longtime power in Iowa Democratic politics, said that even though Mrs.
Clinton performed well in the debate and at the hearing, she hasn't locked up the nomination.

     "Don't sell Bernie Sanders short, I'm telling you. This guy is in the race." Mr. Harkin said in an interview
before the dinner. "This is still going to be a very competitive race, and Hillary can't just sit back. This is not
hers in the bag yet--not at all."

     The Jefferson-Jackson dinner has become defining event on the Iowa political calendar, kicking off the final
sprint toward caucuses on Feb. 1.

     In 2007, Mrs. Clinton and then-Sen. Barack Obama delivered dueling speeches at the dinner. For Mr. Obama, it was a
breakout moment that set him on a path to victory in Iowa. Mrs. Clinton, at that time, faltered at this event when she
criticized Mr. Obama, suggesting he hadn't been tested and didn't have the experience necessary to be president.

     On Saturday, Mrs. Clinton focused mostly on her agenda. For his part, Mr. Sanders said political pundits have
questioned his electability, just as many in 2007 doubted that Mr. Obama could win.

     Each candidate brought a cheering section to the dinner, filling the bleachers with chanting, sign-toting
supporters who tried to outdo their rivals. Mr. Sanders' cheering section proved to be the most raucous among the
three.

     Mr. O'Malley, in his speech, took swipes at both of his rivals without mentioning them by name. He cast himself as
someone who holds fast to his principles--a clear reference to Mrs. Clinton's shift in position on issues such as same
sex marriage and the 12-nation Pacific trade deal. "A weather vane shifts positions every time the winds change," he
said. "Effective leaders do not."

     He also suggested Mr. Sanders is offering merely "words," not the sort of "actions" Mr. O'Malley took when he
served in executive roles as a former governor of Maryland and mayor of Baltimore.

     For Mr. O'Malley, who has consistently polled in the low single digits here, the event was an important
opportunity to convince voters in this key state that he is a viable alternative in the Democratic race.

     And for all the candidates, the dinner also was a chance to woo Biden backers. Although the vice president never
launched a campaign, his allies secured endorsements from elected officials, donors and other Democratic activists--a
constituency that is now up for grabs.

     The Democratic candidates also used this weekend to rev up their supporters and attract new ones, planning events
that were part political pageantry and part pep rally before the Saturday evening fundraiser.

     Mrs. Clinton summoned some star power to bolster her appeal to Iowa voters. Singer Katy Perry, donning a dress
emblazoned with the letter 'H, ' performed at a Clinton event on Saturday afternoon. And former President Bill Clinton
made his debut on the campaign trail at the same rally.

     Mr. Clinton expressed pride in his wife's performance at the Democratic debate and in her 11-hour appearance on
Thursday before the House committee investigating the 2012 terrorist attack in Libya.

     Mr. Clinton said he received congratulatory emails from old family friends during his wife's testimony. "To every
one of them I wrote back a simple answer: 'I'd vote for her,'" Mr. Clinton said.

     While Ms. Perry belted out a few hit songs at the Clinton rally, Mr. Sanders' backers sang folk songs and chanted
"the revolution starts now" at his pre-dinner event. The senator from Vermont walked with a few hundred supporters to
the fundraiser on Saturday evening, telling the crowd that their journey together in downtown Des Moines was symbolic.

     "This is a march which will end up in a year when you will join me in the White House," Mr. Sanders said.

     Write to Colleen McCain Nelson at colleen.nelson-wsj.com and Peter Nicholas at peter.nicholas-wsj.com


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  October 25, 2015 00:48 ET (04:48 GMT)

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