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Update (11:02 EST): Finally, the candidates were asked what they wanted to talk about that they hadn’t a chance to discuss earlier in the evening.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley cited immigration reform, immigration detention camps, the brutalization of Puerto Rico because of hedge funds, and the failure of governments in the Western Hemisphere, in part because of the empowerment of drug cartels. He said Americans are great because of the beliefs that unite them: in the dignity of people and the common good. United leadership would usher in a new era of American progress and prosperity, he concluded.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was outraged that the governor of Michigan allowed the people of Flint to drink and bathe in water known to be contaminated with lead. Within two hours of her publicly airing her views, she said, the governor began taking action.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said Clinton was right to bring up the poisoning of Flint’s residents. He went a step further, however, in demanding that Gov. Rick Snyder resign. “A man who acts that irresponsibly should not stay in power.”

Sanders concluded that “we’re a great nation” with great ideas. “Let’s be honest and truthful. Very little is going to be done to transform our economy and create the kind of middle class we need unless we end a corrupt campaign finance system which is undermining American democracy. We have got to get rid of … Citizens United, and what we have to do is create a political revolution which revitalizes American democracy, which brings millions of young people and working people into the political process. To say loudly and clearly that the government of the United States of America belongs to all of us and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors.”

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly. * * *

Update (10:47 EST): A debate with Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be complete if questions about her husband didn’t arise. While underscoring the fact she’ll have other advisers (“the best,” according to her), she said she’ll definitely be asking for Bill Clinton’s opinions.

Sanders pointed out the obvious: If her team of advisers was full of “Wall Street appointees,” a Clinton administration wouldn’t get far in reforming big banks.

Moderator Andrea Mitchell took a cheap shot at Sanders about his comments on Bill Clinton’s “transgressions,” to which Sanders angrily responded by reminding everyone that he’s always tried to keep his campaign about the issues.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata * * *

Update (10:45 EST): On the subject of lone-wolf cyber threats, Clinton said she was happy that Obama administration officials went to Silicon Valley to discuss cooperation between the private and public sectors on intelligence. She added that the first line of defense against lone-wolf attacks lies with Muslim Americans.

O’Malley agreed, saying the vilification of Muslim Americans by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is a principal problem.

Sanders concurred with O’Malley and Clinton. He said much of the enormous U.S. military budget is based on outdated Cold War thinking. “Less than 10 percent” of the military budget goes into fighting Islamic State and terrorism abroad, he said, concluding, “We need to rethink the priorities of the Defense Department.”

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly. * * *

Update (10:38 EST): Next up, Clinton was asked, “As president, would you hand [Russian President Vladimir] Putin a ‘reset button’?” She gave a summary of the “commitments” she obtained from Russia while she was secretary of state, all the while criticizing some of Putin’s decisions. She described her relationship with him as “complicated” but ultimately one of mutual respect.

Asked about balancing privacy rights with security, O’Malley said the American government should have a warrant to go through your “front door or backdoor.” He said more needs to be done to protect Americans in this regard, though progress has been made toward reforming the Patriot Act.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata * * *

Update (10:35 EST): Clinton said President Obama’s decision to go after Syrian President Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons “resulted in a very positive outcome.” She said it’s in U.S. interests to stabilize the region, traced the violent disorder to rulers of Iraq since the U.S. invasion, and blamed Assad for attacking his own people.

Sanders said he and Clinton have an honest disagreement over Syria. Assad is “disgusting” and a “butcher,” but he said the first priority in the region is the destruction of Islamic State; the second is getting Assad out of Syria, which would require cooperation with Iran and Russia.

O’Malley said the discussion was leaving out “something very important. We don’t have the human intelligence to understand” what happens in terms of the “secondary and tertiary effects” of U.S. policy in the region. He called for a “renewed investment in bringing up a new generation of foreign officers,” for example, people who have local knowledge and relationships that can be used to prevent safe havens for terrorism from being formed in the region.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly. * * *

Update (10:26 EST): News about the Iran deal did not go under the radar. Sanders said it’s time to move forward with Iran despite strong disagreements. He touted his support of the deal, adding it’s not yet time to open an embassy in Iran but that the warming of relations between Cuba and the U.S. could set an example.

Clinton brought up how, as secretary of state, she imposed sanctions on Iran, which she said helped lead to the recent negotiations. Her tone on Iran was cautious — she noted we’ve had “one good day in 36 years.”

As for Syria, Clinton said her plan doesn’t include American forces on the ground, adding that she wants to “go after [Islamic State]” while supporting Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomacy.

Sanders applauded President Obama’s approach on Syria but said his main concern is to keep American forces out of the Middle East and thereby prevent a “disaster.”

O’Malley said creating more alliances is most important, and he contrasted how Republicans and Democrats talk about military action.

Sanders said the Iraq War created a vacuum in the Middle East, leading to the rise of Islamic State. He restated his view that wealthy Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia need to get some “skin in the game” and work harder to fight extremist forces.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata * * *

Update (10:19 EST): Andrea Mitchell and co-moderator Lester Holt noted that Sanders had said he would raise taxes to pay for health care. But how would he pay for his other proposals?

To create 13 million jobs aimed at rebuilding infrastructure, Sanders said, he would get rid of tax loopholes that allow corporations to stash untaxed money offshore. College tuition could be paid for with taxes on Wall Street speculation. “This country and the middle class bailed out Wall Street. Now it’s Wall Street’s time to bail out the middle class,” he said.

Clinton responded that she has documented how she’ll pay for her proposals and directed viewers to her website for review. She added that she’s the only candidate committed to not raising taxes.

The moderators underscored Sanders’ proposal to raise taxes on the middle class to fund health care. He responded that Clinton’s critique of his plan is disingenuous, because the small number of Americans who would pay more taxes would in fact save money by no longer paying expensive health care premiums. He reiterated this point when asked if he hadn’t gone back on his earlier statement that he wouldn’t raise taxes on the middle class.

O’Malley interjected that he balanced the budget as governor of Maryland while serving the interests of working and middle class people. He said all the social benefits he proposed could be funded “if we can eliminate the one entitlement we can no longer afford as a nation”—the super wealthy paying very little in taxes.

On climate change, Sanders was asked how he would convince people Americans to act. He responded that Americans, including the young and residents in his home state of Vermont who saw a temperature of 65 degrees on Christmas Day, are already convinced, and that it’s shameful that the Republicans don’t have the “courage and decency to listen to scientists.”

O’Malley affirmed that everyone on the stage believed in science and invited his rivals to join him in putting forward a plan to create a 100 percent green energy grid by 2050.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly. * * *

Update (10:04 EST): And then the big banks finally came up—an important point of contention between Clinton and Sanders. Clinton said she wanted to “defend” Obama from what she views as attacks by Sanders on Obama’s acceptance of Wall Street donations.

Sanders responded that he and Obama are friends and that he worked hard to help him get elected twice. The real issue, Sanders said, is that Wall Street can’t be reformed when it is providing so much campaign funding and giving some candidates huge speaking fees.

Clinton tried to say that her economic plan addresses banks more effectively than Sanders’, but O’Malley could hardly contain himself, saying, “That’s just not true” as she spoke.

O’Malley talked about reinstituting the Glass-Steagall Act and slammed Clinton for her “cozy relationship with Wall Street.”

Clinton harped about the Dodd-Frank Act, which, O’Malley pointed out, we’ve “never used.”

Sanders jumped in with an example of “how corrupt the system is,” bringing up Clinton’s speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, a company he said hasn’t been punished for breaking the law.

Clinton said Sanders is in part responsible for deregulating banks, a claim Sanders challenged by asking viewers to take a look at his track record.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata * * *

Update (9:59 EST): A young YouTube star asked the candidates how they would attract his generation’s votes.

Clinton talked about affordable education and finding ways to help students pay off debt, as well as creating jobs, saying “I know the young people I talk to are disappointed” about the lack of job opportunities. She offered ideas such as free community college, then listed the rights she’ll defend, rights that Republicans simply won’t protect.

Asked “Why is Sen. Sanders leading you 2 to 1 among young voters?” Clinton dodged the question—one that, sadly, Sanders couldn’t answer for her because time ran out.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata * * *

Update (9:54 EST): Clinton was asked how she would overcome Republican opposition and bridge the divide between the parties after Obama had failed to do so. Draping herself in the banner of bipartisanship, she responded that she’ll “go anywhere to meet anyone at any time to find common ground.” She cited numerous times when she “crossed the aisle” as first lady, as senator from New York and as secretary of state.

Sanders spoke about his work with Sen. John McCain to successfully pass the “most comprehensive health care” law in “modern history.” He said the moderators and Clinton were missing the point. “It’s not Republicans and Democrats hating each other—that’s a mythology of the media. The real issue is that Congress is owned by big money and refuses to do what the American people want.” In “area after area,” he said—raising the minimum wage, make pay equitable between genders, taxing the wealthy, repairing “our crumbling infrastructure”—activists and politicians should make Congress respond to the needs of the people.

Sanders was asked how he will win a general election as a democratic socialist. He replied that the Democratic Party needs major reform, in which dependence on the rich for political financing is replaced by small donors financing politicians who champion the concerns of working families. He said he is proud to have raised more contributions from small, individual donors than any other candidate in U.S. history.

O’Malley took issue with both Clinton and Sanders, saying the biggest challenge facing politicians is healing wounds and divisions. He spoke generally and did not give specifics.

Sanders replied that O’Malley is right. “All of us have denounced Trump and the anti-Muslim, anti-Latino rhetoric,” and that where he disagreed with his Democratic rivals was in his insistence that Americans must pry control over the political process from billionaires.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly. * * *

Update (9:41 EST): After Clinton gave her position on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in response to the question, “Is it fair to say Sanders wants to kill Obamacare?” Sanders pointed out she had not answered the question. He explained what an expansion of Medicare would look like—health care for every man, woman and child. He also reminded Clinton and the audience that he helped write the ACA and voted for it, but he’s worried because so many people are still suffering. He said he wants to get insurance companies out of health care and make it more accessible to all.

Clinton emphasized that Sanders has been changing his ideas on health care for a while, then she promoted Obamacare, saying “tearing it up” would be a mistake.

Sanders fought back with statistics about the 29 million people who are still uninsured despite the ACA.

O’Malley jumped in to set himself up as peacekeeper and deliver a few vague ideas about building on the ACA. Although Sanders protested he wouldn’t be “scrapping” Obamacare, Clinton persisted in saying it would be a mistake to get rid of it. Sanders responded that the debate should be about whether “we have the guts to stand up to the health insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry.”

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata * * *

Update (9:33 EST): A questioner via YouTube asked how the candidates would ensure that incidents of police violence were investigated and prosecuted fairly.

Sanders said that the Justice Department has to get involved; specifically, that any death in police custody should be investigated by the U.S. attorney general. Citing his experience as a mayor, he said the majority of police officers are honest and hardworking, but that like all other citizens, they should be held accountable when they break the law. Police departments should be demilitarized so they don’t look like occupying armies, he added, and should resemble the people they serve in terms of racial makeup.

Clinton was asked what she would do about drug abuse. She said her campaign has brought her “face to face” with the problem; “lives are being lost, children are being orphaned.” She said federal money should be made available to states to address the addiction problem, police officers should be equipped with antidotes for overdoses, and the country must stop treating addiction as a crime and start treating it as a health issue.

Sanders said he agreed, adding that companies that manufacture and market addictive drugs have to be held accountable. “When we talk about addiction as a disease,” he said, “what that means is we need a revolution in terms of mental health treatment … and that’s why I believe in universal health care.”

O’Malley tried to get a word in but couldn’t before the moderators broke off for a commercial.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly. * * *

Update (9:24 EST): Clinton responded to a question about whether black men’s lives are cheap by saying she finds deaths such as that of Walter Scott of South Carolina “heartbreaking,” adding that she wants to find ways to end racial profiling and reform the justice system.

Sanders asked “who in America is satisfied” with our current prison population being mostly minorities and segued into a condemnation of crooked Wall Street bankers going unpunished while young people caught with marijuana are jailed.

Asked about securing the minority vote, Sanders got a laugh and cheer out of the crowd when he talked about polling, highlighting how much better Democrats are doing compared with Trump. He assured the moderators and audience that once African-Americans and members of other key demographics learn about his voting record, he, rather than Clinton, will be their choice.

O’Malley fielded a question about the Black Lives Matter movement with a summary of what he did as governor during times of turmoil in his state.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata * * *

Update (9:21 EST): Guns came next.

Sanders suggested that Clinton’s criticism of his gun record is disingenuous. He cited his “D-minus” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and his history of opposing the gun lobby, adding that military-grade weapons should not be sold and background checks should be robust. He vowed to support stronger gun legislation going forward.

Clinton said Sanders voted with the NRA numerous times, against the Brady Bill five times, against the “Charleston loophole” (a reference to a mass shooting at a South Carolina church; accused shooter Dylann Roof had been allowed to purchase his gun before the FBI had completed its check on his background) and for immunity for gun makers and sellers. She said Sanders voted to allow guns on Amtrak and in national parks. He shook his head as Clinton added that he voted against research to figure out how lives can be saved.

O’Malley said both Clinton and Sanders have been inconsistent on guns. He (as a governor) is the only one to have passed gun safety legislation, he added, telling a story about his hospital visit to a young boy who survived a shooting in a barber shop.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly. * * *

Update (9:15 EST): With commentators promising a “doozy” of a debate, the Democratic candidates took the stage. Clinton got dibs on the opening statement and, in reference to Monday’s holiday, described seeing Martin Luther King Jr. preach a sermon when she was a child.

Sanders jumped on the MLK bandwagon, setting the scene for his main talking points of the night—the system is rigged and billionaires are buying elections. He ended with a reminder that his campaign is an invitation for a revolution and an opportunity for radical change.

O’Malley tied MLK’s legacy to President Obama’s, saying that the future is about “moving the country forward once again” and building on the current president’s legacy.

The candidates were asked how they would spend their first 100 days in office.

Sanders said he’d focus on health care, ending the decline of the middle class, making the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes and bringing Americans together in a political revolution that wrests political power from billionaires and returns it to the people.

Clinton promised to create more jobs, raise the minimum wage, guarantee equal pay for women and build on the Affordable Care Act. She added that she would work in “every way that I know to bring the country together,” explaining that with so much division, there is an urgent need to work together and move forward.

O’Malley used most of his hundred-days explanation to highlight the importance of dealing with climate change, adding that he wants to make cities greener.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata * * *

It’s a key moment for Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton as they both hover within clinching range of their party’s nomination. Sunday night’s debate, held in Charleston, S.C., the fourth in the series, could represent the moment the tone shifts from congenial to combative.

That’s not to leave out Martin O’Malley, who’s still in play in a contest in which media coverage—or lack thereof—plays a part in determining the outcome. But in many respects, this go-round will be about the differences between Clinton and Sanders, as the two candidates will make sure to illustrate.

It’s also the last debate before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1.

CNN touched on some of the themes of the moment in a report posted earlier Sunday:

The face-off at 9 p.m. ET on NBC is the final scheduled meeting before the February 1 Iowa caucuses and comes as Sanders is surging in some early-state polls.

But [Sanders] faces multiple challenges as he prepares to square off against Clinton.

For one, she is often at her best when her back is against a wall—as she demonstrated last fall during an 11-hour grilling by House Republicans over Benghazi or after losing early contests to then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008.

Meanwhile, the debate’s location—just a block from the site of last year’s racially motivated church shooting—and timing on the heels of the Iran nuclear deal’s implementation could give Clinton an advantage in gun control or foreign policy discussions. Those are areas where Sanders has struggled.

Clinton has to make up for her apparent miscalculation of Sanders’ strengths earlier in the election cycle.

Truthdig will be live-blogging what looks to be a lively event starting at 6 p.m. Pacific time, 9 p.m. Eastern. Watch this space.

–Posted by Kasia Anderson

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