Fighting for a victory before Nevada’s caucuses, Hillary Clinton has taken one of her toughest shots at her rival, Bernie Sanders, questioning the long-time independent’s devotion to the Democratic Party he is running to lead.
Ms Clinton accused Mr Sanders of attacking the two most recent Democratic presidents – Barack Obama and her husband, Bill Clinton – both of whom remain popular political figures among Democratic voters.
“I just don’t know where all this comes from,” she said at a televised forum hosted by MSNBC. “Maybe it’s that Senator Sanders wasn’t really a Democrat until he decided to run for office.”
Ms Clinton is hoping to use a win in Nevada as a springboard into the primary race in South Carolina on 27 February and a slate of Southern primaries on Super Tuesday on 1 March, where she is favoured because of her strength among black Americans.
Minority voters play a far bigger role than in the recent contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. Mr Sanders has kept the Democratic race closer than expected, and a win in Nevada after his strong win in New Hampshire would indicate that the contest is far from over.
Speaking to reporters, Mr Sanders described some of President Bill Clinton’s biggest achievements, the North America Free Trade Agreement and welfare overhaul, as “disastrous”. He later said his critique was prompted by a question from a reporter and that a member of Congress can disagree with a president from his own party.
Both candidates vowed to make reforming the country’s immigration system a top priority of their administrations, should either win the White House. Ms Clinton said she would take up the issue in the first 100 days of her presidency.
Some of Ms Clinton’s most important Latino backers raised questions about Mr Sanders’ advocacy for immigrants, saying the Vermont senator repeatedly voted against immigration legislation. About one-quarter of Nevada’s population is Hispanic.