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Clinton and Sanders trade low blows

Hillary Clinton on Monday hit Bernie Sanders on immigration, she hit him on guns, and she claimed that there’s a “growing level of anxiety” in the Vermont senator’s not-quite-so-longshot campaign for the White House.

Sanders’ campaign was ready to return fire. His chief aide doubled down on attacks on Clinton’s fitness to be president, saying she’s experienced “on paper” but suggesting that might not be enough. And Sanders himself went after Clinton’s environmental record, an especially sore point for her.

The Democratic race has taken a turn for the nasty as Clinton and Sanders explore their newfound aggressiveness, each suddenly willing to get personal as Sanders rides an impressive winning streak and as Clinton readies for her own.

The theater for the political drama is also one that hits home — New York, the state of Sanders’ younger years and Clinton’s later years, and the site of the next Democratic primary, on April 19.

A Monmouth poll out Tuesday showed Clinton with a healthy lead over Sanders in New York, earning 51 percent of the support of likely Democratic voters to Sanders’ 39 percent. About 9 percent said they had no preference between the two candidates.

And while Sanders has won eight of the last nine contests, many of the upcoming elections are closed primaries, which do not work in Sanders’ favor, as he tends to perform better with independents.

The potential inflection point has Clinton and Sanders agitated.

After spending the past week bickering over whether the other is “qualified” to be president, Clinton on Monday ripped into Sanders for a range of policy positions.

On immigration, Clinton lamented Sanders’ past vote in opposition to immigration reform legislation that she supported in 2007. While Sanders has maintained that the guest-worker provision in that bill amounted to modern-day slavery, Clinton has nevertheless called his vote an irresponsible one.

“I think it’s so unfortunate that he did not join with others of us in either the House or the Senate,” Clinton said at an impromptu question-and-answer session with reporters at a Queens restaurant Monday afternoon.

Later in the day, she escalated her attacks on Sanders’ record on guns, blasting him for repeated votes against the Brady Bill in the 1990s and his vote more a decade ago to curtail gun manufacturers’ liability.

She said his frequent invocation of his rural state of Vermont in defending his past votes (though he does currently support an amendment to the liability bill in the Senate) doesn’t fly.

“Most of the guns that are used in crimes and violence and killings in New York come from out of state. And the state that has the highest per capita number of those guns that end up committing crimes in New York come from Vermont,” Clinton said during a gun violence panel in Port Washington, accompanied by family members of people who were killed in mass shootings in recent years.

She also suggested that Sanders’ attacks upon her come from a place of insecurity, but appeared to betray her own concern that Sanders’ supporters will be reluctant to drift over to her.

“There seems to be a growing level of anxiety in that campaign, which I hope doesn’t spill over into the way that his supporters treat other people who have every right to support whomever they choose,” Clinton said.

Sanders also didn’t hold back.

Two weeks after Clinton lost her cool on a rope line, jabbing her finger at an activist as she angrily said, “I am so sick of the Sanders campaign lying” about her environmental record, Sanders jabbed at Clinton on that same topic on Monday.

Sanders accused Clinton of dragging her feet in opposing the Keystone pipeline, and for advocating fracking.

“Secretary Clinton’s role in fracking when she was secretary of state is not a good record,” Sanders said at a rally in Binghamton, N.Y. “Secretary Clinton and her State Department worked to export fracking throughout the world.”

Sanders’ campaign on Monday also doubled down on its attacks on Clinton’s fitness to be president, saying she’s experienced “on paper” but suggesting that might not be enough.

“Well, look, she’s clearly experienced, right? Clearly an intelligent person, experienced person,” Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said Monday in an interview with MSNBC’s Tamron Hall.

“But résumé is not enough at the end of the day,” he continued. “Right? So you can look at someone’s résumé and they can be great, but when you do the interview, which is what this whole election process basically is, is a job interview, you learn more than what’s on the paper. So on paper, of course she’s experienced.”

When later pressed about what the Sanders campaign may or may not be implying about Clinton and her support from people who lobby on behalf of corporate interests, Weaver rejected the notion that the campaign is calling the former secretary of state corrupt.

“It’s not about being corrupt. But it’s about a corrupt campaign finance system that supports establishment politicians. The secretary has voted for, you know, she voted for the Wall Street bailout. She—on guns, she’s been all over the place,” Weaver said. “She used to be for gun registration in New York, then she attacked President Obama in 2008 for being too tough on guns. Now she’s gone the other way again. You don’t know where she is. I don’t know what her real position is. She’s clearly tacked all over the place.”

The “qualified” spat bubbled up last week after Clinton refused to outright say in an interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Sanders was up to the challenge of being commander in chief. Sanders hit back, saying at a campaign event last week that Clinton was not “qualified” for the presidency, before reversing himself.

On Sunday, Sanders issued a new line of attack, stating on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Clinton’s “judgment” was “clearly lacking.”

Vice President Joe Biden weighed in as well, telling Mic in an interview published on Monday, “But gosh almighty, they’re both qualified,” he said, adding, “Hillary’s overwhelmingly qualified to be president.”

That was likely welcome news to Clinton’s campaign, which has bristled in the past at some of Biden’s comments, including one in January in which he stated that Clinton is “relatively new” to the issue of income inequality, compared to Sanders.

Clinton’s campaign on Monday dressed down Sanders for his campaign’s persistent suggestion that she’s not a great fit for the job of president.

“This is essentially the same attack he made last week. Last week he used the word ‘unqualified.’ This week he’s using the word ‘judgment.’ It’s fundamentally the same attack,” Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon said, in the segment following Weaver’s on Monday. “He encountered so much blowback last week that they’re trying to change the terminology a bit, but it’s still the same false attack that I don’t think will ring true to Democratic voters. By the same very standards he’s using, President Obama wouldn’t have good judgment to be president, in terms of accepting contributions from the financial industry.”

Speaking to MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” Clinton’s chief pollster and strategist Joel Benenson on Monday lashed out at what he characterized as an increasingly nasty Sanders campaign, advising the Vermont senator to stick to the issues.

“When it comes to the question of judgment, let’s be clear. Hillary Clinton ran a spirited campaign against then-Sen. Obama, and at the end of that campaign, he made a decision about her judgment and trusted her to put her in as secretary of state overseeing American diplomacy and relations around the world,” Benenson added. “He listened to her in the Situation Room time after time, including around decisions about whether or not to go after” Osama bin Laden.

Bill Clinton got in on the game, bashing Sanders during a rally in Brooklyn on Monday. “Sometimes in this primary I get the feeling that the gentleman who’s running against Hillary is running harder against President Obama and me than he is against the legacy of the Bush administration and trickle down economics,” the former president said, going on to jab the self-described democratic socialist for his party affiliation.

“After he’s been a Democrat a little while longer, he’ll get used to it, and he’ll realize that our party is the best hope this country’s got,” he said.

Clinton herself also signaled that she is girding for a fight at the debate Thursday night in Brooklyn. “I have noticed that under the bright spotlight and scrutiny in New York, Sen. Sanders has had trouble answering questions,” she said.

Eliza Collins contributed to this report.

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