MANCHESTER, N.H. — On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton threw her most direct counterpunch yet against Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), responding to his attacks on her history of accepting campaign donations from Wall Street.
In defending her record, Clinton acknowledged that she has accepted money from financial interests but noted that Sanders has, too, albeit indirectly through donations made to a Democratic Party group that supports senatorial candidates.
“You know, Senator Sanders took about $200,000 from Wall Street firms, not directly, but through the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee,” Clinton said. "There nothing wrong with that. It hasn’t changed his view.”
“It hasn’t changed my view or my vote either,” Clinton said.
Clinton has for days criticized Sanders for using the Wall Street donations to insinuate to voters that she can be bought by special interests.
She addressed the criticism directly on Monday, a tacit acknowledgement that the issue remains a stumbling block for voters who are distrustful of her commitment to fighting income inequality.
"I have been speaking out against and working to rein in powerful forces for many years," Clinton said. "And I have the scars to prove that.”
"I haven’t just talked. I haven’t just given speeches. I’ve introduced legislation. I’ve called them out,” Clinton said.
The Sanders campaign fired back at the accusations that Sanders's contributions from the DSCC were all Wall Street contributions, and they accused the Clinton campaign of being in "disarray."
“Bernie Sanders, who has never accepted corporate PAC money in his life, is now accused by Secretary Clinton of taking ‘about $200,000 from Wall Street firms.’ How do they reach that false and absurd conclusion? They assume that every nickel Bernie Sanders received from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for his Senate campaign came from Wall Street," said Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver. "That is obviously preposterous."
“Bernie appreciates the help he has gotten from the DSCC, whose funds come from millions of Americans’ individual contributions, labor organizations, environmental groups, women’s organizations and others," Weaver added. "To say that every nickel that Bernie received came from Wall Street is beyond preposterous. It is laughable and suggests the kind of disarray that the Clinton campaign finds itself in today.”
A day after former president Bill Clinton unloaded on Sanders at a rally while his wife was traveling in another state, he introduced her again in Manchester on Monday with a far more subdued message.
"The hotter this election gets the more I wish I was just a former president and just for a few months not the spouse of the next one,” Clinton said. "I have to be careful what I say.”
Clinton didn’t call Sanders by name but criticized his wife’s opponent for engaging in a political discourse that demonized his opponents.
“We can't get to a place where we’re so mad that we demonize anybody who is against us,” Clinton said. “Where we can’t have an honest discussion about who has the best health care plan; or where anybody who’s not on your side is part of some mythical establishment, including people like Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign Fund.”
“We can’t do that."
In New Hampshire, Clinton trails Sanders in the polls by double digits, a phenomenon that her campaign has largely chalked up to Sanders’s advantage as a lawmaker from a neighboring state.
But entrance poll data from the Iowa caucuses one week ago revealed that Clinton’s problems go deeper. Sanders had a huge advantage — 70 points — over her among younger voters.
Clinton extended an olive branch to those voters on Monday, speaking at length about her plans to control college costs and transform the economy.
“For all the young people who are supporting my opponent, I thank you, too. I thank you for being part of this process, for understanding the importance of getting involved in the politics of America,” Clinton said. "You may not support me now, but I will always support you.”
She added that young people who have lived through the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the economic recession have a lot to be anxious about.
“When I think about what our young people have gone through, what they have known about our country … there is no wonder that they along with so many of us are saying, ‘Wait a minute, we're better than this. We can do more,' ” Clinton said. “We can once again chart this ship of state in the right direction."
This post has been updated.