Ending a day of campaigning across New Hampshire on Sunday, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said his strong grass-roots support positions him to pull off "the biggest political upset in the modern history of America."
But Sanders was also put on the defensive over his record on gun control, precisely the issue that front-runner Hillary Clinton sought to set herself apart on as she campaigned in the state and just as President Obama is set to unveil new gun safety measures this week.
Sanders, the self-styled democratic socialist, was asked in Plaistow about what an audience member described as his "complete 180" on gun issues, a premise Sanders denied. Although Sanders is to the left of Clinton on most major issues, his stance on guns has skewed more conservative, including opposition to background check and support for shielding firearms makers from lawsuits. Since he began running for president, though, he has voiced support for stronger gun laws in a way he has not while representing a pro-gun state in Congress.
"Do not believe everything you read or everything you hear from our opponents," Sanders said, sparking an exchange about his views and votes on guns, including his opposition to the 1993 Brady background check bill.
"I've cast 10,000 votes in my life, and you can pick one vote, and there were reasons why I cast that vote," he said. "But the truth of the matter is that coming from a state that does not have virtually any gun control – we've had Democratic governors and Republican governors opposed to gun control – I think I have done the right thing on this issue throughout my career."
Across the state in Derry, Clinton applauded Obama's plan to act within his authority to strengthen background checks. Clinton has said that if elected, she would close the loophole that allows sales at gun shows without background checks.
At an event Sunday evening in Keene – not far from the Vermont-New Hampshire border – she was to be introduced by former Democratic Rep. Dick Swett, who lost his congressional seat in part because of his support for gun measures in 1994. Also, a television advertisement highlighting Clinton's gun safety proposals that was in limited rotation last year was again airing on New Hampshire’s sole network affiliate, WMUR.
The two leading Democratic presidential hopefuls nearly crossed paths Sunday in a state that could end or prolong the race for the party's nomination. Sanders and Clinton began their days within five miles of each other, in Londonderry and Derry, respectively.
Sanders will continue to campaign in New Hampshire on Monday as Clinton heads to Iowa. Former President Clinton will campaign publicly for the first time this cycle Monday in New Hampshire, a state that has been so crucial to both his and his wife's political fates.
Polls show a tight battle in the state, with Sanders benefiting from a regional advantage after decades representing Vermont. Sanders cited strong fundraising in the most recent quarter: an average donation of less than $30 from 2.5 million contributors.
"I am sensing a level of enthusiasm and support at the grass-roots level," he said. "We are going to take on the establishment, and we're going to win."