It’s been more than a month since Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton met on a debate stage, and let’s just say they have a few things to work out. In that time, (to quote the MTV reality classic The Real World), the Democratic race stopped being polite and started getting real. From a distance, the candidates have argued over qualifications, campaign finance, taxes and speech transcripts. Thursday night, they can do it face to face.
Here are four things we’re watching:
1. Will he/she release his/her tax returns/speech transcripts?:
Clinton has released eight years of full federal tax returns, showing levels of personal income that could make just about anyone blush. Her campaign has been asking when Sanders will do the same. Sanders has only released the most basic information from his 2014 taxes and says his wife, Jane Sanders, prepares their taxes.
Jane Sanders did say Monday night on Bloomberg that she plans to get their taxes done on time this year and she will get them out for the public to see. But there was no real commitment to release back taxes.
Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has been attempting to turn up the heat on Clinton, calling on her to release the transcripts from her paid speeches to companies like Goldman Sachs. He went on an extended riff about the speeches at a rally in Buffalo, N.Y., earlier this week.
For her part, Clinton is still resisting releasing the transcripts, arguing she’s the only person running, Democrat or Republican, who is being asked to do this. She was asked about it in an editorial board meeting with the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the exchange got testy enough that the Republican opposition research operation America Rising sent around the audio.
2. Will they re-litigate the ’90s … again?
The 1990s and the legacy of Bill Clinton’s presidency are almost assured to be a topic, after last week’s confrontation between the former president and Black Lives Matter activists. Clinton was in Philadelphia campaigning for his wife when protesters interrupted his remarks. Clinton went on to deliver a point-by-point rebuttal of the activist’s concerns, including: his wife’s use of the phrase “super predator” in 1996; the mass incarceration of people of color that many blame on the crime bill he signed in 1994; and the welfare reform bill he also signed.
Much of this was at odds with the message Hillary Clinton has been trying to deliver in her campaign.
Sanders’ campaign has tried to use Clinton administration policies to drive a wedge between Clinton and African-American voters, who in many states supported her overwhelmingly. Black voters are a key part of Clinton’s coalition, and if Sanders can erode that support, it will help him in New York’s primary.
But the Clinton campaign isn’t taking it sitting down.
3. Will Clinton and Sanders get to talk about the issues they are pushing on the trail?
In the lead-up to debates, it sometimes seems like candidates are planting bread crumbs hoping the moderator follows them. Ahead of tonight’s debate, the Sanders campaign released a new campaign ad about the oil and natural gas extraction method known as fracking. Its target audience is likely not New Yorkers, but instead voters in Pennsylvania where fracking is controversial and hotly debated. The other target audience: Wolf Blitzer, who is moderating the debate on CNN.
During a debate in March, both candidates were asked about their positions on fracking. Clinton’s was either nuanced, convoluted or politically calculated depending on how you see her. Sanders’ answer was short and to the point. It’s a debate exchange that more than any other in this campaign summed up the differences between the two candidates. Sanders’ rapid-response guy tweeted it out recently.
Meanwhile, Clinton has been pushing hard on the issue of gun control and gun-maker immunity. Sanders voted for an NRA-supported bill protecting gun makers and sellers from some lawsuits. Then he backed away from that position, only to seemingly return to his original view in an editorial board interview with the New York Daily News. It’s an issue that Clinton hopes will play well in New York, and she’s held a couple of recent events with the families of gun violence victims.
4. Will they say all the stuff they’ve been saying on the trail when they are face to face?
Clinton has been critical of Sanders’ New York Daily News interview.
Though she never, in so many words, said Sanders wasn’t qualified, Sanders took it that way, briefly turning up the temperature of the rhetoric in a big way.
Sanders, in recent campaign speeches, has been hitting Clinton hard on her paid speeches and campaign contributions. But in past debates he has seemingly held back (“damned emails,” anyone?). Will he hold back this time? Will Clinton come out swinging, or will it be a nice, polite, wonky tea party as many of the past debates have been?