Democratic candidates have clashed on gun control and healthcare in their liveliest TV debate so far.
Hillary Clinton attacked Bernie Sanders’ record on gun control, and said his healthcare plan risked derailing recent legislation.
Bernie Sanders accused Hillary Clinton of being in the pocket of financial institutions responsible for the 2008 crisis.
While Hillary Clinton leads nationwide, Bernie Sanders is a threat in key states.
Hours before the debate in South Carolina, Bernie Sanders – a Vermont senator – had unveiled a healthcare plan for all American citizens.
This was the final Democratic debate before caucuses in Iowa on February 1 show who the state’s voters prefer as their candidate.
Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who is trailing Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in polls, also took part in the lively debate in which personal attacks were few and far between.
Bernie Sanders announced his universal healthcare plan two hours before the debate started.
Hillary Clinton said any moves to scrap the current Affordable Healthcare Act risked plunging the Democrats into “contentious debate”. Instead, the party should work on improving the program, known as ObamaCare.
Bernie Sanders responded: “Nobody is tearing this up.”
He said he wanted to build on ObamaCare.
Gun control was the first subject in the two-hour debate, that was held near a church in Charleston where nine parishioners were shot dead in June 2015.
Hillary Clinton released an advertisement this week attacking Bernie Sanders for his attitude towards gun control. His home state, Vermont, has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the US, with close to one in two households owning a weapon.
In the debate, Hillary Clinton again highlighted legislation she said showed that Bernie Sanders supported the gun lobby.
However, Bernie Sanders told the debate he had a “D minus voting record” from the National Rifle Association, and fully supported moves by President Obama for tougher background checks on gun buyers.
Martin O’Malley pointed out restrictions he passed against combat assault weapons in Maryland, adding: “I have never met a self-respecting deer hunter who needed an AR-15 [semi-automatic rifle] to down a deer.”
Polls indicate Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are neck-and-neck ahead of the caucus in Iowa, where voters will decide who they want as their preferred candidate. She had once commanded a large lead.
In New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders holds a lead in polls ahead of voting in the primary there eight days later.