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Democratic debate: Clinton, Sanders and O'Malley clash on Islamic State, economy and guns

Welcome to a special Saturday debate edition of Trail Guide, your host through the wilds of the 2016 presidential campaign. It's Dec. 19, and here's what we're talking about:

  • Bernie Sanders  was pressed during tonight's Democratic debate to make a dent in Hillary Clinton's lead
  • Sanders continually reminded viewers that he voted against the Iraq war and Clinton didn't - a tactic that worked for Barack Obama in 2008
  • Sanders' campaign and the Democratic National Committee declared a truce after a frenzy over a campaign employee snooping into Clinton's voter files
  • Here's why the voter data is such a big deal

Sanders campaign reports setting fundraising record

Team Bernie Sanders took a victory lap Saturday night, claiming a variety of wins post-debate.

First, the campaign trumpeted having shattered President Obama's fundraising record of total number of donors.

In a news release, the campaign said Sanders crossed the milestone during the debate. This is how it summed up the feat:

The campaign has now received more contributions than any other candidate at this point in any White House bid. President Barack Obama was the record holder. Through Dec. 31, 2011, his re-election campaign reported 2,209,636 donations. The Sanders campaign crossed that mark during the debate as grassroots supporters flooded the BernieSanders.com website. The average contribution for the night to the Sanders campaign was below $25.

His campaign also said Sanders was the most Googled candidate of the evening and bragged that he gained more Twitter followers than Hillary Clinton or Martin O'Malley.

Steyer: Lack of climate questions 'unacceptable'

Environmental activist and billionaire Tom Steyer is not happy that the debate did not include questions on climate change. In a sharply worded statement Saturday, he referenced the fact that the issue only came up during commercial breaks — his NextGen Climate group has been advertising during the debates.

In tonight’s debate, there wasn’t a single question about climate change. That’s unacceptable. Climate change shouldn't be relegated to commercial breaks. It’s time for the Democrats to add a debate focused entirely on climate change and clean energy — it’s what voters deserve.
Tom Steyer, president of NextGen Climate

And finally ...

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ABC: Campaigns didn't negotiate on empty lecterns

Hillary Clinton returns to the stage after the Democratic presidential primary debate had resumed from a break, as Bernie Sanders stands at his lectern. (Jim Cole / AP)

Hillary Clinton returns to the stage after the Democratic presidential primary debate had resumed from a break, as Bernie Sanders stands at his lectern. (Jim Cole / Associated Press)

ABC moderators got a lot of grief online for starting the debate before Hillary Clinton had returned to her place following a commercial break.

An ABC spokesperson pointed out the campaigns were aware that each break would be five minutes and that the debate is on live television. Also, when campaigns negotiated debate terms, they did not include the empty podium issue in discussions.

David Muir started an awkward line of questioning , and Clinton strolled back to her spot before Sen. Bernie Sanders could answer the question posed.

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Clinton and Sanders tussle over what the middle class can afford

 (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

(Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton sought during Saturday's debate to highlight the immense cost of the social programs that Bernie Sanders wants to create, setting off a clash between the two about what the country can afford and whether the middle class should shoulder the burden for any of it. Clinton, who has pledged she would not raise taxes on families earning less than $250,000, warned that the Sanders promises of free college for everyone and universal healthcare were unrealistic.

“You are going to have to get more taxes out of the middle class” to fund the Sanders agenda, she said. “I don’t think we should be imposing new big programs that are going to be raising middle-class families’ taxes.”

Sanders declared flatly: “Secretary Clinton is wrong.”

He said her warnings against the social programs that he is pushing put her at odds with luminaries in the Democratic party, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, who championed Social Security, and Lyndon B. Johnson, who championed Medicare. Sanders said Clinton's cost estimates do not factor in the cost reductions for middle-class families when they would no longer have to pay for private health insurance or college tuition. And he noted that many of Clinton’s allies in Congress are pushing a landmark paid family leave plan, which would cost middle class families $1.61 per week – a measure not supported by Clinton, who is promoting a plan that would be funded by other means.

“I think, Secretary Clinton, a buck sixty-one is a pretty good investment,” Sanders said.

The time Hillary Clinton met an ex-addict manslaughter convict

 (Jim Cole / AP)

(Jim Cole / AP)

The burgeoning heroin problem in parts of the U.S. has become an unexpectedly urgent issue on the campaign trail, particularly as it spreads in New Hampshire and surrounding states.

"We need more programs and facilities so when somebody is ready to get help there is a place to go," Hillary Clinton said during Saturday's debate.

During a town hall Clinton held this summer in Keene, N.H., a man stood up and told of his history of addiction that led to the stabbing death of another man in a fight. The Times' Michael A. Memoli chronicled the man's story:

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Here's who Hillary Clinton's biggest donors are

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Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley accused Hillary Clinton during the debate of being beholden to Wall Street interests. Clinton insisted that just 3% of her donors are from the finance industry. The number of donors, though, doesn't tell the whole story. Just how many of her biggest donors come from the financial world? Here's our totals for all the candidates.

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When the debate turns to domestic policy

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Hillary Clinton wants debt-free tuition, but not free tuition

Everybody has to have some skin in this game.
Hillary Clinton, on her plan to help young people ease student loan debt, which she tried to contrast from Bernie Sanders' proposal to offer free college for everyone

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Martin O'Malley seeks to win points on gun control

 (Jim Cole / Associated Press)

(Jim Cole / Associated Press)

This time, Martin O’Malley made guns a two-pronged attack.

As he did in the first Democratic debate, Martin O'Malley, former Maryland governor, called Bernie Sanders to task Saturday night for his previous support of legislation to shield gun manufacturers from civil suits and his previous opposition to gun control laws.

But O'Malley also attacked Hillary Clinton for, as he put it, changing her view on gun laws with every election year.

As O’Malley continued to aggressively challenge his rivals – and at times the moderators who sought to cut him off -- he tried to put Sanders and Clinton on the same page.

“Whoa, whoa,” Sanders pleaded. “Let's calm down a little bit, Martin." Clinton implored O’Malley to “tell the truth.”

“I applaud his record in Maryland. I just wish he wouldn’t misrepresent mine,” she added.

In a contest in which candidates have veered toward Sanders’ liberal ideology on several issues, guns have been the most fertile ground for O’Malley and Clinton to portray Sanders as outside the party consensus. Sanders has responded by expressing support for stronger gun laws in a way he hadn’t during a political career representing a pro-gun state.

"Sen. Sanders has really moved in face of the facts," Clinton asserted.

For his part, O’Malley touted gun legislation he signed as governor – over the strong objections, he noted, of the National Rifle Assn. – and he said he would not seek to confiscate assault weapons even if a ban were enacted nationally.

Bernie Sanders goes after Hillary Clinton on Libya to undermine her foreign policy experience

 (Charlie Neibergall / AP)

(Charlie Neibergall / AP)

With four years of experience as the nation’s top diplomat, Hillary Clinton has been pitching herself as the strongest Democratic candidate on foreign policy.

Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator, is trying to undermine that by criticizing her record on Libya. Clinton, as secretary of State, supported U.S. intervention to remove Moammar Kadafi, the Libyan dictator, from power.

“I worry too much that Secretary Clinton is too much into regime change and a little bit too aggressive without knowing what the unintended consequences might be,” Sanders said Saturday during their debate.

And in a recent interview, Sanders said Clinton’s approach to the North African country created a vacuum that allowed Islamic State to flourish.

“Regime change without worrying about what happens the day after you get rid of the dictator does not make a lot of sense,” he told the Guardian newspaper.

He echoed that point Saturday, noting, "Yes, we could get rid of Kadafi, a terrible dictator. But that created a vacuum for" Islamic State.

Clinton has said the intervention in Libya was necessary to protect lives.

“If we had not joined our European partners and our Arab partners to assist the people in Libya, you would be looking at Syria,” she said Saturday, referring to the five-year-old civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians and driven millions more out of the country, creating the largest global humanitarian crisis in decades.

O'Malley goes there

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, 52, got a bit of a jab in at his older opponents.

In debating military strategy, O'Malley chimed in to ask moderators, "Can I offer a different generation's perspective on this?"

For the record, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is 68 and Sen. Bernie Sanders is 74.

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Hillary Clinton's unyielding position on tech firms' responsibility to U.S. security

We always have to balance liberty and security, privacy and safety, but I know law enforcement needs the tools to keep us safe.
Hillary Clinton, on what technology firms need to do to combat terrorists' use of encrypted communications.

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Clinton and Sanders appear to acknowledge that the data breach fight went beyond expectations

 (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

(Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

During Saturday night's Democratic debate, the candidates were promptly asked to address the breach of the crucial voter data file controlled by the Democratic National Committee, in which Bernie Sanders staffers were caught snooping in confidential files owned by Hillary Clinton's campaign, prompting the party to temporarily cut off the Sanders campaign from access to all voter data.

Despite steadily escalating charges and counter-charges between the campaigns about the breach leading up to the debate, the candidates used the debate stage to tamp down the accusations – a clear acknowledgment that the spat had escalated to the point that nobody was gaining political points off it.

Sanders owned up to inappropriate activity by his campaign and apologized to Clinton for it, as well as to his supporters. “Our staff did the wrong thing,” Sanders said. “As soon as we learned they looked at that information, we fired that person.” He vowed that anyone else in the campaign found to have been involved in such activity would also be fired. “This is not the type of campaign we run,” Sanders said.

But Sanders also directed fire at the national party, saying the temporary blocking of his staffers from accessing the voter data was “crippling” to his campaign. “That was an egregious act,” he said.

Clinton said the transgression was distressing to her, as it involved files that “tens of thousands of volunteers” worked to build. But, she said, “we should move on. I don’t think the American people are all that interested.”

The other candidate on the debate stage, Martin O’Malley, said the episode and the way the Sanders and Clinton campaigns battled over it was reflective “the bickering back and forth” that prevails in Washington, “not the politics of higher purpose people expect from our party.”

Candidates agree they don't like Trump's rhetoric

Hillary Clinton said Donald Trump is not helping national security, and used this zinger.

Bernie Sanders takes a page from the Obama playbook on Clinton’s Iraq war vote

 (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

(Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton’s 2003 vote in favor of the Iraq war helped sink her candidacy as she ran for the Democratic nomination against Barack Obama, whose longstanding opposition to the conflict appealed to war-weary voters.

Now Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont and Clinton’s closest challenger in the Democratic primary campaign, is using a tactic similar to Obama’s frequent reminders that diverging views on the Iraq war set apart him and Clinton.

Sanders voted against the war while he was serving in the U.S. House, and he’s never hesitated to raise the issue when criticizing Clinton.

In the last Democratic debate, Sanders called the invasion of Iraq “one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the modern history of the United States.” On Saturday night, he said, “I do not believe in unilateral American action. I believe in action in which we put together a strong coalition of forces.”

Clinton has said her vote in favor of the war was a mistake and has tried to turn her foreign policy experience as secretary of State into a selling point for her candidacy.

Islamic State strategy: Candidates' plans are similar to Obama's

 (Jim Cole / Associated Press)

(Jim Cole / Associated Press)

In both presidential primary races, candidates rail against President Obama's Islamic State strategy and offer their own alternatives. “We have to do the best possible job of sharing intelligence and information," Hillary Clinton said Saturday night, calling for a stronger effort in taking on the militant group.

Except the candidates' plans are hardly alternatives. Nearly all their proposals mirror Obama's -- conducting airstrikes on Islamic State targets to back ground forces from the region, building up the Iraqi army and seeking a political solution to the years-long civil war in Syria.

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I apologize. ... This is not the type of campaign that we run.
Bernie Sanders, on a former staffer's snooping into Hillary Clinton's voter files Here's why the data breach story has dominated the campaign trail for the last day and a half

Finally, the debate is underway

ABC's promised 5 p.m. PST start time turned out to instead open with 30 minutes of pregame. And there were plenty of complaints:

Why that Democratic voter file breach is such a big deal

 (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

(Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

Heard about Bernie Sanders' campaign snooping on Hillary Clinton's files? We explain why it matters so much in their race for the Democratic nomination.

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Watch Ted Cruz read from 'Rudolph the Underemployed Reindeer' (really)

The cheesy send-up is due to air in Iowa television markets during "Saturday Night Live."

Can Bernie Sanders make the most of the debate?

 (Andrew Burton / Getty Images)

(Andrew Burton / Getty Images)

After extraordinary success early in his campaign, Bernie Sanders has not had many big breaks lately.

When the Democrats take the stage in New Hampshire on Saturday for one of their final debates before voting begins, he needs one urgently.

Sanders is running out of time to gain ground on front-runner Hillary Clinton. And there is no place where doing so is more crucial for him than in New Hampshire, an almost do-or-die contest for the senator who hails from neighboring Vermont. He will be under pressure to transform what has proved to be a staid platform this election season into something more akin to what the Republican debates have been: unpredictable, attention-grabbing, a place where the fortunes of a candidate can rise or fall dramatically.

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Bernie Sanders allowed to access crucial voter files again

 (Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

The Bernie Sanders campaign has regained access to the Democratic Party’s crucial voter database after hundreds of thousands of voters protested the party’s decision to cut the campaign off for snooping into private files owned by Hillary Clinton’s operation.

The party relented close to midnight Friday, as a deadline neared for a federal judge to hear an emergency injunction filed by the Sanders campaign in Washington. The campaign had argued that the loss of access to the database was costing it $600,000 per day in contributions, which it was unable to solicit without the DNC’s voter contact information. The database also contains the Sanders campaign’s own files, which it could not access as the dispute raged throughout the day Friday.

“We are extremely pleased the DNC has reversed its outrageous decision to take Sanders’ data,” said a statement from Jeff Weaver, campaign manager for Sanders. “Clearly they were very concerned about their prospects in court.”

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