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Democrats in the spotlight at first presidential debate

LAS VEGAS — Bernie Sanders delivered a message Tuesday night that’s unlikely to get lost in Hillary Clinton’s spam folder anytime soon.

“Let me say something that may not be great politics,” Sanders said. “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.”

The line, delivered in the first half of the Democratic debate at the Wynn Las Vegas casino, seemed to give Clinton a modicum of relief when CNN moderator Anderson Cooper brought up the controversy that has dogged the former secretary of state for months.

Clinton had been decrying the controversy –borne of the killing of four State Department officials in Benghazi, Libya, which led to the revelation she had kept emails on a private server as secretary of state — as a Republican effort to weaken her presidential ambitions.

She said at the debate the committee investigation was “an arm of the Republican National Committee” and that it was admitted to by House Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield. McCarthy withdrew from running to replace John Boehner, the Republican House Speaker, after saying the email controversy has driven down Clinton’s poll numbers.

But the debate with five Democrats was the first chance for the country to see who was running besides Sanders and Clinton. And to wonder about the latest political parlor game — will Vice President Joe Biden decide to run?

Martin O’Malley, who was Maryland’s governor, sought to carve out a chunk of support by telling the sometimes boisterous crowd of about 1,300 invited guests that he was on the forefront of pushing for raising the minimum wage and comprehensive immigration reform.

He called presidential contender Donald Trump the “carnival barker of the Republican Party” and said comprehensive immigration reform was needed to normalize the 11 million undocumented people living in the country.

“I am for a compassionate, generous America that says we’re all in this together,” he said.

The two candidates trailing at the bottom of the polls — former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb — struggled to get time on the stage. Webb openly complained to Cooper that he was getting shut out.

Chafee drew blood first during his opening statement when he took a jab at Clinton by touting his clean record.

“I have no scandals,” he said. “I have always been honest.”

In related news, Clinton opposes construction of Keystone XL pipeline.

The debate was looked to as a chance for Sanders to see if he could reach beyond a fervent base that has embraced a brand of socialism that he spoke about often.

The Vermont senator, the first socialist to be elected to the U.S. Senate, challenged the dismantling of banking regulations and decried the U.S. Supreme Court decision that helped pour unlimited money by corporations into political campaigns.

Sanders said a political revolution was needed.

“What this campaign is about is whether we can mobilize our people to take back our government from a handful of billionaires and create the vibrant democracy we know we can and should have,” he said.

But Clinton sought to puncture the Sanders rhetoric that implied she’d only taken stances on issues — same-sex marriage, her vote to go to war in Iraq as a mistake — for political expediency.

“I’m a progressive,” she said. “But I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.”

Clinton was able to strike at Sanders on a key issue among Democrats, however: guns.

Sanders said he had a D-minus rating from the National Rifle Association, but Clinton pointed out that he’d been favored by them and voted against the Brady Bill — a measure that requires background checks and waiting periods on the purchase of firearms — five times.

She cornered him by saying since the bill passed, more than 2 million prohibited purchases were quashed and that he further complicated his record on guns by voting for immunity for gun makers.

“It wasn’t that complicated to me,” she said. “Everybody else has to be accountable. We need to stand up and say, ‘Enough of that. We’re not going to let it continue.'”

The two-hour debate took place in a state where Clinton lost to Barack Obama in 2008. But Clinton made a splashy entrance into a town known for big statements by showing up at the Trump Hotel and speaking with workers there who were trying to unionize.

In a heavily union town, the gesture was well-received and she had hundreds of supporters standing on the sidewalks in 90-degree heat waving to drivers on the Strip.

But a bemused Trump — still the GOP front-runner and eyeing the next GOP debate in Colorado on Oct. 28 — made his own splash by saying he’d live-tweet the Democrats’ debate.

His assessment?

“All are very scripted and rehearsed, two (at least) should not be on stage,” he tweeted during the debate.

This article was written by David Montero from Los Angeles Daily News and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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