LAS VEGAS –Two days before Nevada's Democratic caucus, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders made their cases before a town hall audience hoping for a forward nudge in what is a neck-and-neck contest for the state's Democratic delegates.
Clinton criticized Sanders' Democratic credentials, saying he "wasn't really a Democrat until he decided to run for president." For his part, Sanders, who went first, associated Clinton with the welfare reform bill signed into law by her husband former President Bill Clinton, and said that law increased extreme poverty in this country.
But the MSNBC and Telemundo town hall was probably most notable for the diversity of its audience, particularly many Latinos whose votes have become a prized commodity in the contest. Some audience members even asked questions in Spanish. Sanders seems to have siphoned some of Clinton's popularity within the community, but Clinton has enjoyed heavy support from it in the past.
Clinton told MSNBC and Telemundo anchor José Díaz-Balart that she would introduce immigration legislation in her first 100 days in office. Both candidates held similar views on parts of their immigration proposals and repeated views to provide paths to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally; they also promise to use executive powers if Congress didn't act.
Despite the competition both candidates are well liked by the community. A poll released Thursday by NBC News/Telemundo/Wall Street Journal, which included an oversample of Latinos from across the country, showed that 54 percent of Latinos had a very positive or somewhat positive view of Sanders. By comparison, 50 percent of Latinos surveyed held such views for Clinton.
Clinton still holds the leads among Latinos when asked who they would favor if the primary were held today. Clinton was picked by 56 percent of Latinos, compared to 39 percent for Sanders.
Las Vegas is a city with a significant Latino and Latino immigrant population. Sanders told of a man who was serving in the military when his wife was deported. He said "Can you believe that?" though that didn't seem to surprise many in the audience.
When another audience member asked him what he would do about immigrant veterans who have been deported after committing non-violent crimes, particularly drug crimes, Sanders expressed disagreement with the practice. "What you are describing to me seems to me to be an outrage," he said.
Clinton was asked about a time when she opposed giving driver's licenses to immigrants not legally in the country. Clinton said this was a state by state decision but said she was happy that states have moved in the direction of granting licenses.
She moved on to pledge to get rid of laws that bar immigrants deported from the U.S. from returning for three years or ten years.
Sanders drew some laughter when he bragged that he was such a feminist that women's rights activist Gloria Steinhem had made him an "honorary woman."
He also said people should not confuse the "democratic socialism" he espouses with that seen in some Latin American countries. "We're not talking about Venezuela. We are not talking about Cuba," he said.
Clinton, who recently gave a speech on race in Harlem, wove issues she addressed in the speech into her answer when she was asked about home ownership for Hispanics and was told by the audience member of the hoops he had to jump through to get a home.
"If you had not been Hispanic, you would not have had as many hoops," Clinton said.