Analysis: Clinton, Sanders turn from pillow fight to political knife fight

Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, speak during the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) — One of Coney Island’s oldest attractions, the Cyclone, includes an 85 foot, 60 degree drop. It’s an iconic amusement in the southwestern part of Brooklyn, one of the five boroughs that make up New York City. The New York Post describes the thriller as “one that takes courage to ride.”

Muster up the courage, Brooklyn. You’re in for another bumpy ride.

When the democrat socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton take a Brooklyn stage Thursday night to appear on CNN, you likely won’t see the easy, almost chummy Bernie and Hillary of the first democratic debate on the same channel in October.

Sanders at that fall debate said, “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.” It was aimed at the media for its coverage of the scandal that erupted over Clinton’s email practices as secretary of state.

It came off as disarming and a bit surprising. The email dustup surrounding Clinton was perfect political fodder served up for Sanders to pounce. He didn’t.

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., waves at the crowd during a campaign rally at Washington Square, Wednesday, April 13, 2016 in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., waves at the crowd during a campaign rally at Washington Square, Wednesday, April 13, 2016 in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Sanders wasn’t a perceived political threat to Clinton at the time. Vice President Joe Biden had just announced he decided to pass on a run for the presidency in 2016 as did Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Clinton looked in good shape with a few lesser challengers to dispose to the history books. Sanders was 30 points behind her in the polls.

By New Year’s Day, Clinton and Sanders were in a virtual tie amongst likely voters in a national poll conducted by CBS News. Sanders went from protest candidate to a viable one.

His drubbing of Clinton in the New Hampshire primary cemented Sanders as a real contender but the public tussles between the two had been relatively minor. The challenger battered big banks and Wall Street instead of Secretary Clinton.

Any check of social media revealed, though, Sanders’ supporters were restless and vocally anti-Clinton. Some wanted red meat. And they weren’t getting what they wanted.

But something seemed to happen coming out of the Sanders win in the Wisconsin primary. That was a pillow fight compared to the political knife fight that has ensued prior to the April 19 New York primary.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is greeted by supporters Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is greeted by supporters Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Clinton blanched at her credentials and qualifications for president being questioned by Sanders. Politically, it seemed like a bad move because his comments couldn’t be well defended by Sanders or surrogates. The former secretary of state and United States senator had been a power center in the situation room when Special Forces took out Osama Bin Laden.

New York’s tabloid papers and straight talking voters have a way of turning elections into bruising affairs. This primary is no different.

On the eve of the Brooklyn debate, a Sanders supporter, physician Paul Song, in front of thousands of people railed against “corporate Democratic whores” who are “beholden to big pharma and the private insurance industry instead of us.”

Song apologized as Clinton’s backers howled at any connection to their candidate.

It went there. “Corporate Democratic whores.” Searing words in the minds of voters before the Brooklyn debate. Voters who may feel like they’re hearing the clicks of the rails riding to the top of that Cyclone roller coaster anticipating what’s next.

Follow Washington Bureau Chief Jim Osman on Twitter @jimosman.

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