Democratic Drama As Curtain Rises On New Hampshire Debate

Bernie Sanders, who leads polls in the state, is suing the Democratic National Committee.

If you aren’t going to a holiday party, seeing the new Star Wars movie, watching the New York Jets take on the Dallas Cowboys, or doing any of the other things people typically do on a weekend night in mid-December, maybe you should tune in to the Democratic presidential candidates’ third debate Saturday at 8 p.m. 

The debate comes at an especially tense moment in the primary campaign. The Democratic National Committee cut off the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) from its national voter database after Sanders' campaign staffers accessed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s proprietary voter data during a brief breakdown in the firewall between the candidates’ files Wednesday. On Friday, Sanders’ campaign sued the DNC to try to restore access to its voter data file. The DNC restored Sanders' campaign's access to its voter file -- though the campaign said it would not drop the suit -- Saturday morning.  

To add to the intrigue, the debate takes place in New Hampshire, the one state where Sanders often leads Clinton in the polls. (Clinton dominates in national polls, and in other early primary states.) New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary is set for Feb. 9, a week after the Iowa caucuses.

The debate is likely to draw a clear contrast between Democratic and Republican approaches to terrorism in the wake of the extremist attacks on Paris in November and the mass shooting that killed 14 in San Bernardino, California, this month. During the GOP debate on Tuesday, Republicans did their best to terrify the nation with dire warnings about “radical Islamic terrorism.” The Democratic candidates, though, have been saying the nation shouldn’t “give in to fear” or allow “demagogues” like businessman Donald Trump, who has called for “a total and complete shutdown” of all Muslims entering the United States, “to divide us up.”

But the three Democratic candidates are unlikely to agree on everything. Here are four major areas where Clinton, Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s policies may clash during Saturday's debate:

Foreign Policy

Clinton has given a number of speeches focused exclusively on terrorism and homeland security since the Paris attacks. She detailed her plan to “defeat and destroy” the Islamic State on Nov. 19, and her broad anti-terrorism strategy on Dec. 15, ahead of the most recent GOP debate. She combined main elements of these proposals in an op-ed for the New Hampshire Union-Leader on Thursday.

In the same paper earlier in the week, Sanders previewed his criticisms of Clinton on foreign policy, arguing that she has shown a flawed calculus when it comes to American interventions in Libya and Iraq. He attacked Clinton's vote to authorize the Iraq War in the last Democratic debate, arguing that the war led to the creation of the Islamic State.

Clinton defended her role advocating for U.S. airstrikes in Libya in the last debate, arguing that former Libyan Prime Minister Muammar Gaddafi “had American blood on his hands” and that there was pressure for American action from European and Arab allies.

When it comes to the conflict in Syria, Clinton has advocated a no-fly zone. Both Sanders and O’Malley oppose such a move, with O'Malley arguing it “could lead to an escalation of Cold War proportions.”

Gun Violence

Clinton has repeatedly attacked Sanders for voting to give gun manufacturers and dealers immunity from lawsuits, bringing it up in the first Democratic debate in October and in the second one in November. O’Malley also has used that vote to criticize Sanders, and mentioned the parents of a woman who was killed in the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater massacre in 2012. The parents tried to sue the online company that sold ammunition to the shooter, but were prevented from doing so because of the immunity law.

Sanders, for his part, has said he would be open to amending the law, which he voted for in 2005 as a congressman. He also has taken heat for his votes opposing the Brady background checks bill in 1993. Sanders says he has to be responsive to his rural Vermont constituents.

In the second debate, Sanders got back at O’Malley after the former governor touted his efforts to pass additional laws regulating firearms in Maryland by pointing to Baltimore’s crime rate.

“I think it’s safe to say that Baltimore is not one of the safest cities,” Sanders said.

Paid Leave and Universal Health Care

The U.S. is one of the world's only countries that fails to guarantee paid maternity leave for new parents. Clinton, who supports paid leave, has objected to Sanders’ proposed mechanism for paying for three months of paid leave and for universal health care.

“If you are truly concerned about raising incomes for middle-class families, the last thing you should do is cut their take-home pay right off the bat by raising their taxes," Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon said in a statement Nov. 17, after the second debate. "Yet Bernie Sanders has called for a roughly 9 percent tax hike on middle-class families just to cover his health care plan, and simple math dictates he'll need to tax workers even more to pay for the rest of his at least $18-20 trillion agenda.” 

Fallon said Clinton “will make sure the wealthiest Americans finally start paying their fair share, not force the middle class to pay even more than they already do.”

Sanders supports paid family leave legislation in the Senate that would be funded by a payroll tax totaling $1.38 a week for a typical worker. The bill would also provide paid leave for workers diagnosed with a serious medical condition.

"What is her program? What does she intend to do other than talk about it?" Sanders asked the Des Moines Register. "If she thinks $1.38 a week is just too much to spend, let her explain that to the people of Iowa."

Clinton hasn’t said how she would structure her paid family leave program. She has suggested through her campaign aides that she’d finance paid leave through taxes that exclusively affect the wealthy.

Wall Street

Clinton committed what was widely perceived as somewhat of a gaffe when she tried to justify her receipt of donations from the financial services industry by saying she represented New York during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. It will be interesting to see if O’Malley or Sanders mention this on Saturday, or instead point to a major disagreement between them and Clinton: Whether Glass-Steagall, the 1930s law that prohibited commercial banks from participating in the investment banking business, should be reinstated. (Its repeal was signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1999.)

Clinton has said that reinstating the Glass-Steagall firewall wouldn’t adequately deter bank risk-taking, that the law’s repeal had no connection to the 2008 financial crisis, and that major economists agree with her that repealing the law isn’t a silver bullet for protecting the economy. Sanders, for his part, has said Clinton's Wall Street reform plan is “not good enough.”

And one area where the candidates are likely to agree

On Friday, a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that more people died from drug overdoses in the U.S. last year than during any previous year on record. The national opioid and heroin epidemic has hit New Hampshire particularly hard. At a town hall in the state earlier this month, when Clinton asked for a show of hands from those who had been affected by a mental health problem or substance abuse problem, an overwhelming number of those in the room raised their hands.

Despite the severity of the problem, New Hampshire ranks second-to-last among states when it comes to substance abusers finding treatment, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

The three Democratic candidates all would likely offer potential solutions, and it would mean quite a bit to those affected for the debate moderators to raise the issue.

The debate, which will be moderated by David Muir and Martha Raddatz of ABC News, will be broadcast live from Saint Anselm College in Manchester. It’s hosted by ABC News, the New Hampshire Democratic Party and the Union Leader.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the team playing against the Dallas Cowboys Saturday night. It is the New York Jets.

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