Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders debate in Milwaukee

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MILWAUKEE, WI - FEBRUARY 11: Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (L) and Hillary Clinton participate in the PBS NewsHour Democratic presidential candidate debate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on February 11, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.The debate is the final debate before the Nevada caucuses scheduled for February 20. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(Feb. 11, 2016)– Hillary Clinton has one goal in Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate: Stop Bernie Sanders.

The rivals are meeting in Milwaukee for the PBS “NewsHour” debate being simulcast on CNN. It is their first clash since Sanders delivered a 20-point drubbing of Clinton in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, which followed Clinton’s win by the narrowest of margins in the Iowa caucuses.

Clinton sought to dent Sanders by portraying his plans as unrealistic and said it was important for Americans to vet both of their programs.

At one point, Clinton told him, “We are not France,” after Sanders had complained that the United States was the only major industrialized power in the world that did not provide universal health care for its citizens. “We should not make promises we can’t keep,” Clinton said and warned that Sanders’ plans to push for a single-payer health care program would gridlock the political system and jeopardize Obamacare.

In what was an even-tempered encounter, the two candidates laid out sharp differences — but without the kind of bitter attacks that marked their last debate before New Hampshire. But in one tense moment, Sanders warned, “Secretary Clinton, you are not in the White House yet,” earning a couple of boos from the audience.

Clinton sought to co-opt the language that Sanders has been using to refer to an economy he says rewards the rich at the expense of the middle class.

“Yes, the economy is rigged in favor of those at the top,” Clinton said. “I know a lot of Americans are angry at the economy and for good cause. Americans haven’t had a raise in 15 years,” Clinton said, adding that she wanted to do more to ensure that “Wall Street never wrecks Main Street again.”

The debate takes place ahead of the Nevada Democratic caucuses on February 20 and the South Carolina Democratic primary the following Saturday. Both candidates opened with appeals to Latino and African-American voters who will be decisive in those states.

Sanders, seeking to broaden his coalition from mainly white voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, pointedly vowed to fight for criminal justice reform, an issue that is important for African-Americans.

In her opening statement, Clinton also made an appeal to minorities and other Americans who feel the political system discriminates against them.

“I am running for president to take down all the barriers that are holding Americans back,” Clinton said.

Clinton got a huge boost ahead of the debate when she won the endorsement of the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“One of the individuals that has been with us time and time again has been Hillary Clinton,” New York Rep. Gregory Meeks, chair of the CBC Political Action Committee, told CNN’s Carol Costello on “Newsroom.”

“She has been, her whole career, an individual that has been fighting for issues that are important to the African-American community,” Meeks said.

Lewis doesn’t recollect Sanders in ’60s

Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, meanwhile, told reporters that he didn’t recall Sanders’ involvement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

“I never saw him. I never met him,” said Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement. “I was chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years, from 1963 to 1966. I was involved with the sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery and directed to voter education project for six years. But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President Clinton.”

Clinton is expected to argue at the debate that Sanders is not ready to be commander in chief and hasn’t thought deeply about foreign policy issues.

But she must be careful not to further alienate Sanders supporters, including young voters. Younger female voters, in particular, have turned to Sanders’ campaign recently, raising questions about Clinton’s strength among base Democratic constituencies.

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