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Clinton Sharpens Her Criticisms Of Main Challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders


Hillary Clinton is sharpening her criticism of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, her chief rival for the Democratic nomination. And in those attacks, there is an echo of the 2008 race she ultimately lost to President Obama. NPR's Tamara Keith was on the road with Clinton in Iowa.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Pop star Demi Lovato served as the warm-up act at Clinton's last event of the night, belting out her hit song "Confident" to a standing-room-only crowd.


DEMI LOVATO: (Vocalizing).

KEITH: But for those watching the polls, "Confident" probably wouldn't be the adjective they'd choose to describe Clinton's campaign headed into the Iowa caucuses. By all accounts, the race here is tight, and so Clinton is turning up the contrasts with Sanders, as she sees them, talking more and more about what it takes to be president.


HILLARY CLINTON: I'll tell you, I'm not interested in ideas that sound good on paper but will never make it in the real world. I care about...


CLINTON: I care about making a real difference in your life, and that gets us to the choice that you have to make in this caucus.

KEITH: On Sanders' single-payer healthcare plan, just unveiled over the weekend, Clinton painted it as unachievable.


CLINTON: Now, in theory, there's a lot to like about some of his ideas, but in theory isn't enough. A president has to deliver in reality.

KEITH: This focus on pragmatism and the challenges of getting things done in Washington is vintage Clinton. Here she was using a similar line of attack against the then Senator Obama eight years ago.


CLINTON: Maybe I've just lived a little long, but I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be. You are not going to wave a magic wand and have the special interests disappear.

KEITH: Clinton is a more seasoned candidate and campaigner this time around. But last week in Ames, Iowa, the magic wand came out again to make the very same point.


CLINTON: This is hard work, my friends. I wish that we could elect a Democratic president who could wave a magic wand and say, we shall do this and we shall do that. That ain't the real world we're living in.

KEITH: There are echoes of the 2008 campaign on foreign policy, too. When Obama said he'd sit down with the leaders of North Korea and Iran without precondition, Clinton pounced in an interview with the Quad-City Times.


CLINTON: And I thought that was irresponsible and frankly naive.

KEITH: And now she and her campaign are responding in a similar way to Senator Sanders, saying he would normalize relations with Iran.


CLINTON: Now, Senator Sanders doesn't talk very much about foreign policy, but when he does, it raises concerns because sometimes it can sound like he hasn't really thought it through.

KEITH: But Clinton isn't the only one bringing back themes from 2008. Four years as secretary of state may have given Clinton more authority on foreign affairs, but one thing that hasn't changed is her 2002 vote authorizing the Iraq War, something Sanders brings up regularly. Here he is this week in Iowa.


BERNIE SANDERS: On the crucial foreign-policy issue of our time, it turns out that Secretary Clinton, with all of her experience, was wrong and I was right. Experience is important. Dick Cheney had a lot of experience. A whole lot of people have experience but do not necessarily have the right judgment.

KEITH: For Sanders and many Democrats, that vote remains a line in the sand. But these are different times with a different opponent, and Clinton and her allies are hoping for different outcome. Tamera Keith, NPR News, Des Moines, Iowa. 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.
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