Hillary Clinton Aims To Regain Momentum At Debate After Surprise Defeat In Michigan

Expect lots of talk targeting Latino voters.
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are meeting up for another debate on Wednesday.
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are meeting up for another debate on Wednesday.
Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will meet for their eighth primary debate Wednesday evening in Miami, one night after Sanders pulled off a huge upset and narrowly defeated Clinton in Michigan.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Democrats were only supposed to meet for six debates, but both candidates believed it was to their advantage to negotiate for more as it became clear that Sanders was posing a legitimate threat to Clinton’s campaign. Their debate Sunday evening in Michigan focused in large part on the lead-contaminated water crisis in Flint, as well as on international trade, but immigration did not come up. That’s guaranteed to change on Wednesday, since the debate will be hosted by the Washington Post and Univision, the Spanish-language television network.

Clinton's campaign hopes to blunt Sanders’ bid by crushing him in Florida on Tuesday, where recent polls have had her up by 30 points over Sanders. Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio also hold their Democratic primaries the same day. Since Florida sends 246 delegates to the Democratic convention this summer, it is by far the biggest prize of the night.

While Sanders has defeated Clinton in majority-white states like New Hampshire, Colorado, Minnesota, Maine, Kansas, Maine, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Vermont, Clinton has won by much larger margins in states with larger nonwhite electorates. She’s won every contest in the South, as well as the Iowa and Nevada caucuses and the Massachusetts primary.

Latino voters -- and nonwhite voters in general -- could be pivotal in upcoming races, Florida in particular. Pew Research Center reports that Latinos make up about 18 percent of eligible voters in the state. While immigration does not rank as the first priority for most Latino voters, it is often a decisive one.

Clinton is currently leading among Latino Democrats in Florida, according to a Washington Post-Univision News poll released Wednesday. Sixty-eight of them support her, versus 21 percent who support Sanders. There was a similar margin on immigration; 66 percent of Latino Democrats polled said they trusted Clinton more on the issue, while 18 percent chose Sanders.

Both Clinton and Sanders are trying to appeal to the pro-reform voters, with promises to immediately push for bills in Congress or to act on their own -- going further than President Barack Obama has -- if those legislative efforts fail.

The campaigns gave a preview of their attack lines in dueling calls with the press on Tuesday, bringing out Latino lawmakers and former officials to do so. Sanders supporters, including Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), said Clinton was inconsistent on the issue, citing her 2007 opposition to driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants and her 2014 statement that unaccompanied minors coming to the U.S. from Central America "should be sent back."

Clinton supporters hit back, pointing out that although he voted for comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, Sanders voted against it in 2007. He also broke with Democrats in a 2006 vote to protect Minutemen militias that patrolled the southern border, and was generally absent from reform efforts during his time in the House, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) told reporters on a call.

Gutiérrez said Latinos should ask "where was he before he was running for president?"

"The truth is that at the moment when we needed someone to stand up and defend our vision of immigration, at the moment when immigrants were being demonized, Sanders was playing for the wrong team," he said.

While Clinton still has a relatively comfortable lead over Sanders in delegates, the senator’s campaign has said he is going all the way to the convention. He certainly has enough money to do so, as small-dollar donors who aren't yet maxed out helped him out-raise Clinton in January and February. Since the states that vote on Tuesday are delegate-heavy ones, and are awarded proportionally, Sanders needs to keep as close to Clinton as possible to maintain the argument that he’s better-suited to take on the Republican nominee in November.

The debate will be broadcast at 9 p.m. EST on CNN and Fusion in English and Univision in Spanish. The Washington Post’s website will also have a livestream.

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