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Democratic Presidential Candidates To Debate After Bernie Sanders' Big Win


Tonight in Milwaukee, Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton will meet face-to-face for the first time since the Hampshire primary where Sanders thumped Clinton, winning by more than 20 percentage points. NPR's Tamara Keith is at the debate site in Milwaukee and joins us with this preview. Hey, Tam.


SHAPIRO: The Clinton campaign has been pretty clear that they do not think Senator Sanders' record has been adequately scrutinized. What do you expect Secretary Clinton to do with that in the debate tonight?

KEITH: Well, Clinton needs to slow Bernie Sanders' momentum, which he has a lot of right now. And as you say, the campaign feels like he really hasn't been pressed on his views on national security or how his Medicare for All plan would actually work. And so you can expect Clinton to draw contrasts with Sanders as she has in past debates on things like that. But as Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech on Tuesday night, she also has to work on her own message - the way she talks to young people, in particular. And so while drawing this - these contrasts, she also needs to find a way to deliver a more inspirational message, and this is her first chance since that drubbing in New Hampshire for her to do that on a national stage.

SHAPIRO: Another part of the work she needs to do was apparent in the exit polls, which showed that Sanders won overwhelmingly among Democrats who said being honest and trustworthy was a top priority. How does Sanders keep capitalizing on that in the face-to-face conversation tonight?

KEITH: He is likely not to want to talk about her damned emails, as he said in a past debate, but he will absolutely, unless something dramatic changes, talk about Wall Street and corporate influence and money in politics. This is something that he's talked about in past debates, and it's been a very effective line of attack against Clinton. It's definitely hurt her. In conversations that I've had with voters at both Clinton and Sanders events, they say that her ties, her campaign contributions from corporate interests are a big concern, and I think that has been part of that honest and trustworthy issue.

SHAPIRO: Now, the next two states to vote, Nevada and South Carolina, have much more diverse electorates than Iowa and New Hampshire. We have seen both candidates piling up endorsements from African-American prominent folks and having surrogates on the campaign trail. How do you expect their message to reflect that tonight at the debate?

KEITH: You can definitely expect to see them talk, I think, in more depth about things like water crisis in Flint, criminal justice reform, voting rights, immigration reform. And as you mentioned with these endorsements, just today, here's a sign of how important these candidates feel African-American voters are. Bernie Sanders was out with a web video with Harry Belafonte endorsing him, and the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee had a press conference where people like civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis praised Clinton and took a swipe at Sanders' civil rights credentials.

SHAPIRO: Have the debates actually mattered that much in the Democratic race until now? We've heard so much about the Republican debates. Have these made a difference?

KEITH: There have been no real game-changing moments in the Democratic debates thus far, nothing as dramatic as what happened with Marco Rubio in New Hampshire in last weekend's Republican debate. But debates are really an opportunity for candidates to be pushed, to take strong, firm positions on things. And those positions that these candidates could take in tonight's debate could potentially become problematic in a general election. The positions that you take in a primary don't necessarily play as well in a general election audience, and any debate is an opportunity for something like that to happen.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.