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Democratic candidates sound off at 'Wing Ding' in Iowa

Democratic candidates sound off at 'Wing Ding' in Iowa
Hillary Rodham Clinton listens as fellow Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley speaks at the party's "Wing Ding" gathering in Clear Lake, Iowa. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Four Democratic White House hopefuls fired up their party's base at a raucous gathering in Iowa on Friday, launching blistering attacks on the sprawling GOP field and, among some lesser-known candidates,  taking indirect swipes at front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Clinton  delivered a fiery speech, booming so loudly that she started growing hoarse midway through it. She defended herself against Republican critiques of her role as secretary of State when four Americans were killed in a terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, and over her use of a private email server.

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"Here's what I won't do," Clinton said. "I won't get down in the mud with them. I won't play politics with national security or dishonor the memory of those we lost."

Benghazi was a tragedy that has been investigated seven times, she said, including by committees of the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

Clinton also said she turned over 55,000 pages of emails to the State Department and gave her server to the Department of Justice over concerns that she emailed information that was later deemed classified.

At the start of the "Wing Ding," a fundraiser for 23 county Democratic parties, Clinton joked about the email controversy that has dogged her for months.

Clinton said she recently opened an account with Snapchat, a social media platform that allows users to send out pictures and videos that become hidden after several seconds.

"I love it," she said, and the crowd roared. "Those messages disappear all by themselves."

Clinton castigated Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker as holding positions on issues such as abortion, immigration and education that are out of line with those of the American public.

She ignored her rivals for the Democratic nomination, including Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who for the first time pulled ahead of Clinton in a poll this week of New Hampshire voters.

The Wing Ding gathering took place at the historic Surf Ballroom, best known as the site of a 1959 concert by Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson before they boarded a plane, which crashed, killing all aboard.

The 1,000 attendees Friday night dined on two types of chicken wings, baked beans and fruit as the candidates agreed on most issues, such as the problem of income inequality and their support for same-sex marriage, a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally and equal pay for women.

Sanders, an independent, and Lincoln Chafee, a onetime independent who served Rhode Island as a governor and U.S. senator, didn't mention Clinton by name, but they did allude to policy differences with her.

Both men highlighted their Senate votes against the Iraq war in 2002.

Clinton, then a senator representing New York, voted in favor of the war, though she later said her support was a "mistake." The issue dogged her during her unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid.

Chafee said that at the time of the vote, he went to the CIA to look into the justification for the war, and was convinced that reports that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction were false.

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He noted that Bush, whose brother George W. Bush was president at the time, said on Thursday that Iraq was secure in 2009 and that the toppling of Hussein was a "pretty good deal."

"What kind of neo-con Kool-Aid is this man drinking?" Chafee said.

Sanders, a self-described socialist, noted that he refused to accept the support of any "super PAC," which can accept unlimited donations.

"I did not want money coming into my campaign or my super PAC from millionaires and billionaires. I don't support their agenda," Sanders said. "I don't want their money."

A super PAC supporting Clinton has raised more than $15 million in the first six months of the year.

Sanders, who has been drawing the largest crowds of any candidate in field, including 27,000 in Los Angeles earlier this week, said the reception to his populist message "has blown my mind."

The reason he is generating so much enthusiasm, Sanders said, is that "the American people are sick and tired [of] establishment politics," an implicit dig at Clinton, who has been part of the establishment for more than two decades as first lady, senator and secretary of State.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley argued that he was the sole candidate in the race with a track record of achieving Democrats' goals for the nation, including increasing education funding, freezing college tuition, passing a 'living wage' measure, expanding voting rights and family leave, and banning the sale of assault weapons.

"I am not the only candidate for president in our party who holds progressive values," he said. "But I am the only candidate for president in our party with 15 years of executive experience, as a big-city mayor and as a governor, turning those progressive values into actions," he said.

"It's about getting things done. It's about new leadership. It's about action, not words," O'Malley said.

Twitter: @LATSeema

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