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Clinton, Sanders To Meet In First Debate Since Close Iowa Caucus


Less than 24 hours after the appeared together in a town hall on CNN, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will be on stage tonight for a TV debate on MSNBC. That happens in Durham, N.H. The two Democrats face very different challenges in the vote in New Hampshire next week, and joining us from Manchester to talk about those challenges is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. So tell us, Mara. What are the stakes in the Democratic race on Tuesday? I mean, for a long time, Sanders has been ahead in this state. I mean, doesn't he have it all wrapped up?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, he does have a huge lead - 20 points in the latest NBC poll. Sanders really needs a big win here. He needs to win the way he's polling, given how the next couple of contests are going to be in much less friendly electorates for him in Nevada and South Carolina. The stakes, however, are much higher for Hillary Clinton. Her campaign is not saying her goal is to win here, but she simply needs to narrow Sanders' margin as much as possible. She's already trying to kind of pre-spin his victory by saying he's a neighbor; he's from Vermont. But a big loss here would really be stinging for her. And you know, New Hampshire has been very, very good to both Clintons in the past, and Hillary Clinton has been trying to drum up some of that old good will again this week.

MCEVERS: What are you watching for in the debate tonight?

LIASSON: Well, for Hillary Clinton, I'm watching to see how she uses the debate to address the deficits that her battle with Sanders has exposed. She seems to not be able to appeal to young people. She lost them 9 to 1 in Iowa. She will be on a college campus tonight. Also, she hasn't been able to give a good answer about her ties to Wall Street, her paid speeches to investment banks. And also, I'm watching to see how she connects her critique of Sanders as a pie-in-the-sky idealist as opposed to her, pragmatic progressive who can get things done. How does she connect that to a bigger, more aspirational message about the middle class and the future?

MCEVERS: What are you look for from Sanders?

LIASSON: Well, Sanders has been relatively restrained. He has attacked her for her ties to Wall Street, for being establishment, not being a pure-enough progressive. He hasn't made an issue of her emails or the Foundation. He hasn't connected that to her character or her trustworthiness. He doesn't seem to want to be a left-wing Pat Buchanan, who really did undermine the first George Bush's efforts to win the White House, to win a second term in 1992.

You know, what is, to me, the most interesting thing about this Democratic battle - it was supposed to be something that would toughen up Hillary Clinton - having a sparring partner, not having a coronation. That was supposed to make her a better general election candidate. Instead, she's getting roughed up rather than toughened up, and Democrats are really worrying.

MCEVERS: Do you think there's a chance that Bernie Sanders could overplay his advantage in New Hampshire? I mean, does he need to be thinking ahead about audiences in places like South Carolina and other primary states?

LIASSON: Well, yes, and I think that's why he's being relatively restrained. I don't think that the Democratic Party wants to see a battle - a personal battle or a battle over character. They want to keep it on issues.

MCEVERS: You mentioned this is on a college campus. I mean, that's not the most typical community in any state. There's also been a lot of talk about New Hampshire overall being less than a perfect reflection of the U.S. as a whole. Are we hearing that again this week?

LIASSON: We certainly are. New Hampshire, like Iowa, is much whiter, more rural and more prosperous than a lot of the rest of the country. But for people who feel that New Hampshire and Iowa are unworthy first-line vetters (ph), just hold on because in a week or two, the candidates are headed to South Carolina and Nevada where there are a lot more African-American voters, Hispanic voters, union members. The electorate is a lot more like the general population.

MCEVERS: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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