Bill Clinton took subtle jabs at Hillary Clinton’s Democratic rival Bernie Sanders in a speech in Palm Beach County Monday — an event that she skipped to focus on an early state instead.
Without naming Sanders, Clinton contrasted the Vermont senator’s proposals and experience with that of Hillary Clinton.
For example, Clinton said that there are two approaches to making college tuition more affordable: One is free tuition for everyone (that’s Sanders’ proposal). Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has advocated a sliding-scale approach: making tuition and books free for poor students while letting rich families cover the cost themselves.
And Clinton gave a warning about moving the Democratic Party more to the left. He said that the Tea Party moved the Republican party to the right — and then they “didn’t get anything done.”
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“That’s going on now in our party,” he said.
Clinton’s speech at the Port of Palm Beach in Riviera Beach touched on the themes of Hillary Clinton’s campaign with an emphasis on key Democratic constituencies in South Florida: African-Americans, Latinos and Jews. He noted her support for DREAMers — young children brought illegally to the United States as children — and called for police and prison reform and voting rights. He told the crowd of about 800 people that he and Hillary had been a “strong supporters of the state of Israel” while also supporting Muslim-Americans.
The former president is a strong surrogate for his wife, but his presence in Florida on Monday is another sign that she’s battling for the nomination — something that appeared to be an easy ride for her just months ago.
She was supposed to appear in Palm Beach County on Monday herself, but a few days after her resounding loss to Sanders in New Hampshire, her campaign announced that she would skip Florida to focus on Nevada before the Feb. 20 caucus. For months, polls showed Clinton far ahead of Sanders in Nevada, but a TargetPoint poll last week showed a tie.
On her Nevada schedule: two get-out-the-caucus events and a women’s health meeting Monday. Both Clinton and Sanders attended Sunday services at the same African-American Church in West Las Vegas.
But Clinton has a commanding lead over Sanders in South Carolina, which holds the next Democratic primary on Feb. 27. Clinton led Sanders 62.7 to 31.3, according to a Real Clear Politics average of the polls between mid-January and mid-February.
After Clinton’s razor thin victory in Iowa and loss in New Hampshire — two largely white states — her supporters have been hoping that she’ll do far better in more diverse states such as South Carolina, where blacks make up more than half of the Democratic electorate.
“These are two tiny states that reflect only their own little states,” former U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, said at her campaign’s office opening in Pompano Beach last week, referring to Iowa and New Hampshire. “Now we are beginning to campaign into the real states.”
Clinton has tried to woo black voters with TV ads including one that features former Attorney General Eric Holder. Last week, she got the endorsement of the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus, including South Florida Representatives Frederica Wilson and Alcee Hastings.
Sanders has tried to chip away at Clinton’s African-American support by picking up some high-profile endorsements, including former NAACP President Benjamin Jealous.
Clinton has spent little public time in South Florida although she has held multiple fundraisers in the area and logged more time here than Sanders.
She spoke to the National Urban League in Fort Lauderdale in July and then dashed to Florida International University in Miami to give a speech announcing her support for ending the Cuba embargo. She also gave a speech at Broward College in Davie — located in the county with the highest number of registered Democratic voters in the state.
Clinton has stronger ties than Sanders in the Sunshine state, which she won in 2008 before losing the primary to Barack Obama. But Sanders, whose only South Florida appearance in recent months was the Urban League event in Fort Lauderdale, has an active network of volunteers in Florida.
His campaign has sent volunteers to help local volunteers phone bank across Florida, said Mitchell Stollberg-Appleyard, a volunteer who has been making calls at a nurses’ union hall in Hollywood. Volunteers have been making calls to newly registered Florida independents to encourage them to switch their registration to Democratic so they can vote in the primary. The deadline to register for the primary is Tuesday.
“Wherever there is a Wi-Fi connection where people can get together and make phone calls they are doing it,” said Stollberg-Appleyard, a leader with the Oakland Park Democratic Club. “It’s happening all over the state.”
Florida’s primary is March 15, but by that point it’s possible that more than half of voters will have voted by mail or at early voting sites.
When asked if Sanders plans to hold any events in Florida before March, spokesman Michael Briggs told the Miami Herald Monday, “We do not.”
Republican groups bashed Clinton’s decision to skip South Florida and send her husband.
“Hillary Clinton’s failure to pull away from Sanders in the primary is forcing her to blow off Florida,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Ali Pardo said in an email. “If Clinton is having this much trouble in the primary against a self-proclaimed socialist from Vermont, how can she expect to be competitive in the state in the general election?”