As the Democratic presidential hopefuls approach the finish line in Iowa, a recent poll conducted by NBC and The Wall Street Journal shows Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders trailing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by only 3 points. In response to Sanders’s late surge, Clinton has sought to focus on several wedge issues that she hopes will pull voters away from Sanders.
This strategy was on full display at her campaign stop on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames on Saturday. The rally featured appearances from former Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords and her husband Captain Mark Kelly – both strong advocates of gun control measures. Following Giffords’s and Kelly’s short speeches, Clinton kicked off her stump speech by promising to pursue common-sense gun control policies no matter how hard she is opposed by the gun lobby. “The facts cry out for action,” stated Clinton as she cited 90 fatalities in America a day due to gun violence. While she did not mention Senator Sanders by name in this portion of her speech, it was apparent that Clinton was drawing a contrast between her and Sanders, who is seen by many Democratic voters as soft on gun control.
Clinton also distinguished herself from Sanders on the issue of financial regulation. Sanders has made a large part of his campaign about breaking up big banks and regulating financial institutions, but Clinton pointed out that the federal government already has the ability to regulate banks through the Dodd-Frank legislation. She added that she would go after other financial institutions and not just large investment banks, saying, “The shadow banking system, that’s what I’m worried about.”
While Clinton did not invoke Senator Sanders’s name while talking about financial regulations and gun control, she did mention him specifically when she spoke on healthcare policy. Joking about the origins of the Affordable Care Act, she said “You know, before it was called Obamacare it was called Hillarycare.” She criticized Sanders for wanting to start from scratch and replace Obamacare with a single-payer scheme rather than building off of the current legislation.
In spite of Clinton’s focus on these wedge issues, supporters at the rally did not cite them as the reason for their support for her. Shirley Coulson, a woman in her 60s, stated that she believed Clinton was the most qualified of the democratic candidates and that she will be “better able to work across party lines than either other candidate.” One attendee called Sanders’s redistributionist economic policies “unrealistic.” Interestingly, none of the comments included doubts about Sanders’s ability to take on Republicans in the general election.