Clinton, Sanders may take gloves off in Sunday’s debate

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have been relatively civil so far during their months-long contest. But tensions in the Democratic presidential campaign are poised to flare in Charleston, South Carolina, Sunday night over curbing gun violence.

With two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Clinton, Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who barely qualified for inclusion, were set to take the debate stage just a few blocks from Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where nine parishioners were killed during Bible study in a mass shooting over the summer.

Clinton has used Sanders’ vote on a 2005 law giving gun manufacturers legal immunity to undercut his liberal image. Sanders announced Saturday, on the eve of the debate, that he was reversing his position and is now supporting legislation that would amend the liability law.

Clinton’s once formidable lead in Iowa has dwindled, and the Vermont senator has maintained a steady advantage in neighboring New Hampshire, adding a sense of urgency in the last debate before the Feb. 1 Iowa contest and the New Hampshire primary a week later.

Clinton entered the 2016 race as the prohibitive favorite for the nomination, and she has spent much of her time tangling from afar with Republicans, arguing she is best candidate to build upon President Barack Obama’s agenda. But Sanders has become a more immediate threat.

Sanders has a passionate following among young voters and liberals. For months, he has pointed out his differences with the former secretary of state, most notably his plan to break up large Wall Street banks.

His latest TV ad suggests he would be tougher than Clinton on Wall Street. That’s led Clinton’s team to say he crossed the line he pledged not to cross into negative campaigning.

For O’Malley, whose campaign has failed to gain traction among voters, it may be his last chance to fire up the electorate in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the first primary election takes place Feb. 9.

Written by Ken Thomas and Laurie Kellman