TOLEDO, Iowa -- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told a passionate town hall questioner here that he would not use former President Bill Clinton's sex scandals against presidential primary opponent Hillary Clinton, citing his refusal to run a negative, personal campaign.
"You're tired of Hillary's emails," said the middle-aged male questioner, who left before reporters could speak to him. "I'm tired of even seeing or hearing anything about her. My question to you is, isn't one of the qualifications to be president to have some kind of moral authority? I mean, how can you tell a Secret Service agent that he has to be fired for having an affair with a prostitute in a hotel room, but support a president who has an affair -- a known affair -- in the White House. It seems to me she isn't qualified."
"I hear what you're saying," said Sanders. "Hillary Clinton is not Bill Clinton. What Bill Clinton did, I think we can all acknowledge was totally, totally, totally disgraceful and unacceptable. But I am running against Hillary Clinton. I am not running against Bill Clinton. And I thank you for the question in this sense: What we need to do as a nation is focus on the bloody issues facing this country."
The crowd of around 100 voters broke into applause, prompting the questioner to stand up and say that the issue wasn't "personal" at all.
"It was in the office!" he said.
"Okay," said Sanders, taking another question.
That answer echoed what Sanders had always said about the scandals that dogged most of Clinton's presidency. In 1998, as a re-elected congressman from Vermont, Sanders condemned Clinton's behavior while chastising Republicans for investigating it.
"Forty-three millions of Americans have no health insurance, millions of senior citizens cannot afford their prescription drugs, and this House is going to send to the Senate for a trial, to go month, after month, after month, where Bill Clinton touched Monica Lewinsky?" Sanders asked rhetorically, as he announced his vote. "Bill Clinton acted deplorably in his personal behavior, but what the American people are saying loudly, and clearly, is 'let's get on with business.'"
As a candidate, even as Clinton has moved ahead in the polls, Sanders has consistently refused to attack Clinton personally, focusing instead on their divergent approaches to taxes, education, banking, and economic fairness. For 18 years, Democrats have criticized Republicans for their pursuit of Clinton and obsession with his sex scandals. In the last few months, conservatives have resurrected the stories of women who accused Clinton of sexual assault, but were not found credible by the long-running independent counsel's investigation.
But in Toledo, no one apart from the lone questioner wanted to make hay of that.
"Unfortunately, I think some of us realized that Hillary Clinton had some baggage," Carla Wessels, 71. "It was bound to come up. I don't think it's right, but for the Republicans, it's just gravy. And I am so proud that Bernie Sanders takes the high road, and won't devolve into slamming.
"Frankly, it's between Hillary and Bill," said Doreen Moeller, 52, her daughter.