Sanders knocks Clinton, GOP rivals on finances, terrorism

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HAMPTON, N.H. Bernie Sanders brought his populist road show to coastal New Hampshire Tuesday, where the Democratic presidential candidate took aim at rival Hillary Clinton for her ties to Wall Street and at Republicans for their bully-boy approach to battling Islamic terrorism.

Sanders, a self-avowed social democrat who first won election to the U.S. Senate in 2007 as an independent in Vermont, highlighted the populist nature of his presidential campaign in remarks delivered to a packed Winnacunnet High School auditorium. Bursts of cheering followed nearly every statement he made.

Small donations from 800,000 supporters have provided the cornerstone of his campaign’s success. Sanders told the crowd that he had collected money from the largest number of donors of any U.S. presidential campaign, with contributions averaging just $30. He won’t accept large corporate donations or the backing of political action committees, or PACs, which are often used to skirt campaign-finance rules. Despite the financial limitations, he leads Clinton in New Hampshire, 48 percent to 43 percent, according to a average of polls.

“We began this campaign about seven-and-a-half months ago,” he said. “We had no money, we had no political organization, and to be honest, had very little name recognition outside of New England. I think it’s fair to say that a lot has changed in seven months.”

While New Hampshire holds the first presidential primary election in 2016, party caucuses in Iowa a week or so earlier will provide the first test of campaign strength. Former Secretary of State Clinton leads Sanders in the Hawkeye State, almost 53 percent to 35 percent, the Real Clear Politics website shows. That’s down from early September, when some polls showed him with a lead over Clinton, a former First Lady and U.S. Senator from New York.

What hasn’t changed for Sanders, who is 74 years old, are his views on income-inequality, the distribution of wealth and the need to rebuild the nation’s “middle class.” Sanders also favors improving access to health care, making public colleges tuition-free and raising the federal minimum wage. He would fund such objectives by raising income taxes and those paid by Wall Street speculators.

Clinton, he said, would be too soft on America’s financial institutions, particularly the big investment banks concentrated in New York City. He also criticized her for taking campaign donations from Wall Street banks and investment firms, saying the 68-year-old’s proposals to tighten financial regulations aren’t strong enough.

He also criticized Republican candidates, as they debated national security issues and the war on terror in Las Vegas. He focused on the “tough-guy” approaches some candidates have pitched as the best way to defeat the Islamic State and al-Qaeda terrorists.

While he also supports taking a tough line against such evil doers, Sanders said the next president must also be smart about tactics and thinking ahead about possible outcomes. He told the crowd that one reason he voted against the 2003 Iraq invasion was concern that removing Saddam Hussein would destabilize the entire region. The country remains torn today.

“It is not hard to overthrow a dictator, but it is hard to understand the unintended consequences of doing so,” he said to raucous applause.

In North Africa, Sanders said allowing Libyan rebel forces to topple Muammar Gaddafi from power left a vacuum that has left the oil-exporting nation riven with warring factions and opened the door to let terrorist groups expand there. A dictator who abused the rights of Libyans, Gaddafi’s regime was designated as sponsor of terrorism, having financed the Black September group that attacked Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Sanders said sending in American troops to fight Islamic State forces, which have occupied parts of Syria and Iraq, didn’t make sense, as there is no clear way to end that battle. He also said the U.S. should not be the only nation waging the fight against Islamic terrorists.

Instead, Sanders said a coalition of world leaders need to be involved, including those of Middle Eastern countries, who see Islamic State as a common enemy. Citing Qatar as an example, Sanders pointed out that if that tiny, oil-rich country can afford to spend $200 billion to prepare for the world cup soccer tournament, it can help eradicate the Islamic State threat.

Who would you like to see become the next president of the United States?

The first presidential primary will take place in New Hampshire on Feb. 9. (Massachusetts voters get to weigh in on “Super Tuesday,” March 1.)  For whom will you vote to be your party’s standard bearer?

Bush, Jeb (R)

Carson, Ben (R)

Christie, Chris (R)

Clinton, Hillary (D)

Cruz, Ted (R)

Fiorina, Carly (R)

Gilmore, Jim (R)

Graham, Lindsey (R)

Huckabee, Mike (R)

Kasich, John (R)

O’Malley, Martin (D)

Pataki, George (R)

Paul, Rand (R)

Rubio, Marco (R)

Sanders, Bernie (D)

Santorum, Rick (R)

Trump, Donald (R)

None of the above