(CNN)At CNN’s South Carolina Democratic town hall in South Carolina Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton dropped her attacks on Bernie Sanders and focused instead on the stories of the audience — families of gun violence victims, students who owe tens of thousands of dollars in loans and a young woman concerned about racism.
Sanders, meanwhile, was less interested in attacking Clinton than embracing President Barack Obama — and lambasting as “racist” the President’s critics such as Republican 2016 front-runner Donald Trump.
Here are our takeaways from the Democratic town hall. It’s a busy night in politics, and we’ll come back later with more takeaways from the Nevada Republican caucuses.
Sanders hits Obama critics
Sanders wants there to be no doubt: He’s on Team Obama.
He made that clear by accusing Republican presidential front-runner Trump and other birthers of fomenting “a racist effort to try to delegitimize the President of the United States.”
“Nobody has asked for my birth certificate. Maybe it’s the color of my skin, I don’t know,” Sanders said.
Far from portraying himself as the logical successor to Obama, Sanders has been saying to Democrats that the President hasn’t been all that the party’s loyalists wanted him to be.
It’s made for an awkward dance between Sanders and Obama in recent months. First there was the meeting between the two — things were good. Then Sanders lashed out, insisting that Obama has been wrong on some issues — largely because he thought (and said publicly, on BET) that Clinton was pandering for African-American votes by repeatedly embracing Obama’s policies.
But on Tuesday night, Sanders went squarely after Republicans for the President’s struggles to achieve progressive policy goals.
Clinton was aghast when the young woman said her interest rate was between 7% and 9%, and then, point after point, laid out her plan to lower what the student owes: a contingency repayment program; no debt past 20 years; a reduction for those who take national service jobs.
“I want this to be a program where we have affordability and I have a particular commitment to the historically black colleges and universities,” she said.
Sanders, meanwhile, talks broadly about humanity, but he missed several potentially memorable human moments.
When a young man said his father died after a lifetime of cigarette smoking, Sanders said his father had, too — and then turned away.
When the cousin of a Charleston church shooting victim asked a deeply personal question about guns, Sanders’s immediate response was his voting record: “To begin with, let me just say this: I have a D- voting record from the NRA.”
On stage, Sanders was confronted by a Clinton campaign video portraying him as a candidate with one answer to all of what ails America: Wall Street’s millionaires and billionaires.
He swatted away that characterization, running through a litany of issues he frequently brings up on the campaign trail: raising the minimum wage, making public college free, adopting a single-payer health insurance system, ending free trade deals and more.
Sanders pointed out that his campaign speeches often top an hour. “They are the longest, most boring discussions in the history of politics,” he said.
In those speeches, though, Sanders connects all those points to the overarching theme of inequality.
He made that clear as he wrapped up his argument that he sings more than one note.
“What I am fighting for right now is a political revolution in which government starts working for working people and for the middle class, and that’s a revolution that is prepared to take on the billionaire class today which has enormous power,” he said.
Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist — and his moment as a serious contender for the Democratic nomination has been decades in the making.
It’s helped fuel his rise. But it has also given Clinton an opening. In recent weeks, her campaign seems to have settled on the attack that Sanders is a single-issue candidate because it’s a way to highlight the Vermont senator’s own limitations — and do it without criticizing him on his policy positions, which appeal to many liberals.