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Sanders shows a softer side in MSNBC forum

<p>ROCK HILL, S.C. — Showing a more personable side, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Friday night sought to clearly differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton without devolving into frontal attacks that have seemed like an uncomfortable fit with his brand of issue-based politics.</p><p>“The media drives me nuts,” Sanders told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who was sitting for one of three back-to-back interviews with the Democratic candidates in an event billed as the First in the South Presidential Forum. In front of a live audience of some 3,000 South Carolinians, Maddow pressed the Vermont senator to expound on a recent interview with the editorial board of the Boston Globe newspaper in which he stated, “I disagree with Hillary Clinton on virtually everything.”</p><p>But Sanders leaned into the modifier, “virtually,” rather than doubling down on the attacks that his campaign has ramped up since last month’s high-stakes Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, where he launched a new, aggressive assault on the Democratic frontrunner’s record.</p><p>“Virtually is the key word,” Sanders said. “It’s always this gotcha stuff. I can’t walk down a hallway in the nation’s capital without people begging me to beat up on Hillary Clinton, attack Hillary Clinton, tell me why she’s the worst person in the world,” he said. “I resisted, I resisted, and I resisted. I think unlike our Republican friends there, who think that politics is about attacking each other in incredibly stupid and destructive ways, I think what we are trying to do is have a sensible debate on the important issues facing America.”</p><p>But he added: “Having said that, I would not have run for president … if I believed that establishment politics and establishment economics can solve the very serious problems that we face.” And he did not let Clinton off the hook for being slow to state her opposition to the Keystone pipeline. “For me, as opposed to some unnamed candidates, the issue of Keystone was kind of a no-brainer.”</p><p>If the forum served as any preview of next week’s debate in Des Moines, Sanders appeared to signal that he feels more comfortable sticking to the issues rather than getting in the dirt and launching frontal attacks.</p><p>The format — where each of the three candidates sat knee-to-knee with Maddow for 30 minutes of conversation — seemed to allow for more personalities and policy positions to shine through than the rapid-fire debate set-up.</p><p>Clinton spoke emotionally about a recent meeting with the mothers of African Americans who died at the hands of law enforcement. “I still can’t get over that Eric Garner, on Staten Island … died from a chokehold,” she said, referring to the New Yorker who died last year after a police officer placed him in an illegal chokehold. “He was selling loose cigarettes, that’s all he was doing. Was it against the law? Yeah, it was against the law, but … he had kids, he had a family. OK, maybe he shouldn’t have been selling cigarettes, but did he deserve to die because of that? Absolutely not.”</p><p>And she seemed to enjoy a few lighter moments, looking at a picture from her wedding day projected on a screen above her and admitting that her curly hair was thanks to “a permanent. I have such straight hair — I knew we’d end up talking about hair — I have such straight hair, it took like three times to get it.”</p><p>But Clinton appeared to stumble in attempting to explain her position on the death penalty. She said she would not be disappointed if the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty. “I would breathe a sigh of relief about that, because I think many states have gone way too far,” she said. But she defended the use of capital punishment for terrorists. In the federal system, “I do have some questions about removing it completely for terrorism,” she said, pointing to the Boston Marathon bombers and suspected 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as examples. “There are some really heinous crimes that are, in my view, still arguably ones that should potentially have the death penalty.”</p><p>The Charleston church massacre, she said, “that’s the kind of case that would cause people to have a legitimate discussion about whether or not it’s appropriate.”</p><p>For his part, Sanders showed a more toned down, self-aware side than his often grumpy and serious persona belies. When he was told there were going to be some non-policy questions, he joked, “how many pair of underwear do I have? Am I really Larry David?” a reference to the comedian’s recent biting caricature of him on “Saturday Night Live,” where he said the Vermont senator owned one pair of underwear. When Maddow paused to open an envelope with the questions, Sanders said, “Watch, it’s the underwear question.”</p><p>He admitted that people see him as &quot;grumpy … but I think what people don’t see is I have seven beautiful grandchildren who are the joy of my life.&quot;</p><p>He defended his record on guns — he voted against the Brady Bill — pitching himself as a liberal from a rural, pro-gun state who could build consensus across the country, “which says we are going to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them,” and said he supports ending the gun show loophole. “I believe I can bring together the 60 or 70% of the American people who are sick and tired of seeing these horrific massacres that appear every couple of weeks,” he said.</p><p>Sanders agreed that African American voters in South Carolina don’t know him well enough yet, but said a senator from a majority white state like Vermont could appeal &quot;because the issues that impact the people of South Carolina, the South and all over America, are the same issues that impact the people of Vermont — and that is that the middle class of our country is disappearing. In South Carolina, and Vermont, people are working two or three jobs, people can’t afford to send their college.&quot; </p><p>For his part, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley managed to beat expectations by the mere fact that he is still introducing himself to the state. A recent Winthrop University poll showed him at 2 percent among likely South Carolina voters, trailing Sanders by 13 points and Clinton by 69 points.</p><p>“When I ran of mayor of Baltimore I only had 88 days to go and I was the whopping first choice of 7 percent of my neighbors,” he said. “So I kind of like a tough fight. And I believe that we’re actually on course.”</p><br>

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