MILWAUKEE, Wis. (AP) — Locked in a tough primary fight in Wisconsin, Hillary Clinton is looking to draw a contrast with Bernie Sanders by emphasizing her Democratic bona fides.
Before 1,500 Wisconsin Democratic activists, officials and donors in a hotel ballroom Saturday, the former secretary of state pointed out longtime colleagues and supporters, affirming, “I am a proud Democrat and I support Democrats up and down the ticket, always have and always will.”
It’s a swipe at Sanders, a longtime independent senator from Vermont who is expected to have a strong showing in the Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary Tuesday.
Sanders and Clinton both appeared in Eau Claire earlier in the day, with Sanders drawing several thousand while Clinton attracted about 850. Clinton urged Democrats to nominate one of their own and one with a long record, while Sanders asked Democrats to look to the movement of new voters he has brought into their unexpectedly competitive primary campaign.
“There is one campaign that has created an enormous amount of energy and enthusiasm. And that is our campaign,” Sanders told the heart of the Wisconsin Democratic establishment, gathered at the Wisconsin Center for the state Democratic Party’s Founders’ Day dinner in Milwaukee.
Sanders, who also campaigned in an African-American neighborhood of Milwaukee Saturday, was planning to continue his aggressive Wisconsin tour Sunday and Monday. Clinton was expected to return to New York, where she faces an important home-state primary later this month, while husband Bill Clinton is planning to campaign on her behalf Monday in Milwaukee.
After several primary losses and with a tough fight ahead in the April 19 New York primary, Clinton has shown some frustration with her Democratic opponent in recent days. The tension was evident Saturday as the campaigns bickered over scheduling a possible debate before the New York contest.
Clinton did not raise that dispute in Eau Claire or Milwaukee, but toggled between contrasting her positions on key issues with Sanders and casting herself as more electable than any of the Republicans. Notable also was that Clinton mentioned GOP Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as often as she did Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, a sign of Cruz’s strong support in Wisconsin, where the Tuesday primary will go a long way to deciding whether the party’s nomination is decided at the July national convention.
“It shouldn’t be enough that people just make promises that are going to be really hard if not impossible to keep or even worse, give speeches that incite anger and violence against fellow Americans,” Clinton said, criticizing Sanders’ policy goals as unrealistic, and Trump’s rhetoric as divisive.
Clinton listed her campaign promises to grow jobs, provide more educational opportunity and lower health care costs. She questioned Sanders’ plans for free college tuition and criticized Trump and Cruz on national security. She also argued in Eau Claire that in a general election, she was “best able to withstand whatever the Republicans have planned.”
It’s a suggestion that Clinton’s decades of public life has been more thoroughly dissected than Sanders’ years as a far-left mayor, U.S. House member and U.S. senator.
“I think we need a nominee who has been tested and vetted,” Clinton said in Milwaukee. “For 25 years they’ve thrown everything they can at me, and I’m still standing.”
The line brought all 1,500 to their feet cheering, forcing Clinton to shout her closing lines over the ovation.
Speaking before Clinton at the banquet, Sanders suggested the more than $100 million he’s raised this year and the influx of new voters he’s attracted make him “the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump.”
While Sanders could get a boost of enthusiasm from a Wisconsin win, Clinton continues to hold a commanding delegate lead. Clinton has won 1,243 pledged delegates compared with Sanders’ 980, according to a count by The Associated Press. That lead grows when including superdelegates, or party officials like members of Congress and state leaders who can back any candidate they wish.
With superdelegates, Clinton has 1,712 delegates to Sanders’ 1,011, putting her much closer to the 2,383 needed to clinch the nomination
Clinton hopes that victories in New York and five Northeastern states a week later would allow her to wrap up the nomination by the end of the month. But it is unclear whether Sanders will change his mind about taking his insurgent campaign all the way to the July convention.
Catherine Lucey reported from Eau Claire, Wisconsin.