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Hillary Clinton has plenty of fodder for attack in Thursday’s debate, but will she use it?

Hillary Clinton will formally accept the Democratic Party's nomination for president during the national convention in Philadelphia this week.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders wasted no time honoring New York’s tradition of bare-knuckled politics when they started campaigning in the state’s primary.

Now they’ll have another chance in Thursday night’s debate in Brooklyn, the borough where Sanders was born and Clinton established her campaign headquarters.

But at a time when Sanders desperately needs a big win in New York’s primary on Tuesday to stay in the hunt for the Democratic nomination, he’s provided Clinton plenty of fodder to use against him.

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Most notably, he prompted a backlash from Democratic leaders in an ill-fated attempt to question Clinton’s judgment by saying she wasn’t “qualified” to be president.

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Although Sanders was trying to draw attention to Clinton’s track record, including her vote for the war in Iraq and her connections to Wall Street, it was a head-scratching comment about a candidate with one of the longest resumes of any presidential hopeful, including stints as secretary of State and senator.

Clinton brushed off the remark, calling it a “silly thing to say,” but her campaign ramped up the outrage and her supporters leaped to her defense. Sanders ended up having to explain himself until he finally retreated.

During an interview on NBC’s “Today” show, Sanders said that “of course” Clinton is qualified, adding that “on her worst day, she will be – she would be an infinitely better president than either of the Republican candidates.”

The question for Clinton in their first debate in more than a month will be whether she capitalizes on his missteps as she seeks to put the nomination out of his reach.

In recent days, Clinton has kept up the pressure on Sanders. While she’s stopped short of saying Sanders isn’t qualified to be president, she’s clearly questioned his readiness.

In particular, her campaign has circulated the transcript of an interview Sanders did with the New York Daily News, where he failed to provide specifics about how he would break up large banks on Wall Street.

“I have noticed that under the bright spotlight and scrutiny here in New York, Sen. Sanders has had trouble answering questions,” Clinton told reporters. “He’s had trouble answering questions about his core issue, namely dealing with the banks. He’s had trouble answering foreign policy questions.”

The Daily News went on to endorse Clinton this week, calling her a “super-prepared warrior realist” and describing Sanders as “a fantasist who’s at passionate war with reality.”

Though Clinton has a steady lead of about a dozen points in polls of New York Democrats, she also may move in the debate to blunt Sanders’ momentum from his recent wins. He is coming off a string of victories, but they’ve mostly been in small states and he’s struggled to win enough delegates to threaten Clinton’s status as the prohibitive front-runner.

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Coming primaries in large states including New York, Pennsylvania and California are among his final chances to significantly alter the arithmetic.

In recent days, Clinton has revived old attack lines, criticizing Sanders’ votes against some gun control measures and immigration overhaul legislation that would have provided a pathway to citizenship.

Sanders, of course, has his own rejoinders to use on Clinton during the debate.

He’s pointed to Clinton’s muddled handling of then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s 2007 attempt to grant driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally. When Spitzer withdrew the plan in the face of political opposition, Clinton said she agreed with his decision.

“Not only does she not understand the urgency of immigrant families, but she’s not a champion when we need someone to fight for our community,” Cesar Vargas, a New York activist and lawyer, said during a conference call organized by the Sanders campaign.

On Tuesday, the Sanders campaign accused Clinton of having a “credibility gap” after he blasted her during a speech in Rochester, N.Y.

He reiterated his insistence that Clinton release transcripts of paid speeches she made to Wall Street and criticized her super PAC for taking money from the financial industry.

“Our job is to stand up to these powerful special interests, not to take their money,” Sanders said.

Twitter: @chrismegerian

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