Clinton also touted her foreign policy credentials, drawing another, more implicit, contrast with Sanders, who has made tackling economic inequality the focus of his campaign. “I’m prepared to do all parts to the job,” she said, after offering voters a detailed account of her time in the Situation Room during the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Though Clinton has the backing of Democratic leaders and top donors, polls show a tighter race in Iowa while Sanders has built a slight lead in New Hampshire, which borders his home state of Vermont. Losses in both early voting states could raise worries among Democrats about her strength against Sanders, who was relatively unknown when he started the campaign but has attracted big crowds to his rallies.
A poll released on Wednesday by Quinnipiac University showed Sanders winning 49 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa, compared to 44 percent for Clinton. The same survey showed Clinton leading in a 51-40 percent match-up just a month ago.
Clinton has long resisted directly targeting Sanders, fearing that such attacks would alienate his passionate supporters. Should she win the nomination, Clinton will need that kind of liberal enthusiasm to boost her to victory in a general election.
Daughter Chelsea Clinton also got in the act, telling a New Hampshire audience that Sanders would open the door for Republican governors to undermine the health care law.
“I never thought we’d be arguing about the Affordable Care Act in the Democratic primary,” she said. “Sen. Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare, dismantle the (Children’s Health Insurance Program), dismantle Medicare, dismantle private insurance.”
Both candidates received dueling endorsements on the eve of Obama’s State of the Union address. Clinton picked up the backing of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence — an endorsement that came just a day after she won support from leading gun control advocate Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman, and her husband, Mark Kelly.
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign, noted that the two candidates diverged on the landmark Brady handgun bill, which imposed a five-day waiting period for gun purchases. “Bernie Sanders actually voted against it. But there’s only one candidate who fought for it and that candidate is Hillary,” he said.
Sanders has expressed his support for Obama’s use of executive actions to curb gun violence and has said he would revisit his position on the liability issue. But in a Democratic forum on Monday night, he doubled down on his defense of his vote on the controversial bill.