NEW YORK CITY — Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are set to square off Thursday night at CNN’s Democratic presidential debate in Brooklyn, five days before the crucial New York primary contest here. The debate begins at 8pm CST.
Ahead of the high-stakes April 19 primary, the prime-time debate is expected to have some testy moments.
Until recently, the Democratic race had remained relatively tame, largely devoid of the personal attacks and heated rhetoric that have characterized the GOP contest.
But as the race has dragged on into April, there has been a shift.
In recent days, Sanders has questioned Clinton’s judgment and credibility, pointing to her relationship with Wall Street and vote for the Iraq War.
Clinton, meanwhile, has had harsh words for Sanders, sharply questioning whether he is capable of executing the promises embedded in his lofty rhetoric.
Sanders will likely have to address the latest controversy that has engulfed his campaign: On Wednesday, surrogate Paul Song said at a campaign rally that the Democratic party must stop electing “corporate Democratic whores.”
Sanders quickly disavowed those comments, calling them “inappropriate and insensitive.”
The debate will take place at Brooklyn Navy Yard, located across the East River from Manhattan, making it a home-turf battle for both candidates.
Clinton served as New York senator for eight years and Brooklyn is the location of her campaign headquarters, while Sanders was born and raised in the borough.
And with the debate taking place in the global financial powerhouse of New York City, the two candidates will no doubt spar on Wall Street reform — one of the major pillars of Sanders’ campaign.
The candidates could also clash on other major issues such as fracking, minimum wage and gun control.
Clinton and her aides have been signaling for days that they plan to hit Sanders for his views on gun control, particularly his belief that victims of gun violence should not be able to sue gun and ammunition manufacturers.
The likelihood that this issue would become a flash point on Thursday skyrocketed earlier in the day when a judge in Connecticut ruled that the suit between the families of Sandy Hook victims and the manufacturer of the gun used in the 2012 shooting there could go forward.
The viability of the lawsuit was in doubt because of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a law Sanders supported that protects gun manufacturers from liability.
Clinton hit Sanders for the law at a roundtable on gun violence on Monday and is likely to do so again Thursday night.
Polls show Clinton is likely to defeat Sanders in New York, and even as she enjoys a sizable delegate lead, it is critical for Clinton that she win this state.
The Democratic race so far has proven Sanders to be an unexpectedly durable candidate whose popularity among liberals and younger voters has helped to expose the vulnerabilities in Clinton’s candidacy.
The New York race comes after a string of victories for Sanders in states including Wyoming, Wisconsin, Idaho and Utah. If Sanders were to eke out a win in New York, it would deal a serious blow to Clinton and strengthen the narrative that it is taking Clinton much longer than initially expected to clinch her party’s nomination.