NEW YORK – The race for the Democratic nomination took a negative turn, with front-runner Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders exchanging criticism over each other’s qualifications for the presidency.
In press conferences, the rivals addressed the accusations, with Sanders vowing to fight back.
“This is not the type of politics that I wanna get in,” he told journalists in Philadelphia. “But we’ll get used to it fast. I’m not gonna get beat up. I’m not gonna get lied about.”
Clinton, campaigning in New York City, sought to shift attention back to her Republican opponents, saying: “I will take Bernie Sanders over Donald Trump or Ted Cruz any time, so let’s keep our eye over what’s at stake in this election.”
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It was a notable shift in tone for a primary contest that has remained largely civil. As the race moves toward the New York primary on April 19, the stakes are higher for both campaigns. Sanders’ recent string of victories is complicating Clinton’s efforts to march toward the general election in November.
Sanders told a crowd in Philadelphia on Wednesday that Clinton has been saying that he’s “not qualified to be president.”
“I don’t believe that she is qualified if she is, through her super PAC, taking tens of millions of dollars in special-interest funds,” he said, referring to a political action committee.
WATCH: Bernie Sanders backs off on Clinton not qualified as president comments. Brian Mooar reports.
Clinton earlier in the day questioned Sanders’ truthfulness and policy expertise.
In a discussion of Sanders in an interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News, Clinton was asked if “Bernie Sanders is qualified and ready to be president of the United States.”
She responded, “Well, I think he hadn’t done his homework, and he’d been talking for more than a year about doing things that he obviously hadn’t really studied or understood, and that does raise a lot of questions.”
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Despite her sizable delegate lead, a loss in the New York contest would be a major political blow for Clinton that would highlight her weaknesses within her own party, particularly with younger voters who’ve supported Sanders primary bid.
A former New York senator, she’s been touting her work in Congress for the state, highlighting her economic record during visits to struggling cities.
On Thursday, she took a quick trip on the New York City subway. The photo op was aimed at Sanders, who told the New York Daily News in an interview this week that New Yorkers still used tokens to pay for the train. The system switched over to pre-paid MetroCards in 2003.
A Brooklyn native, Sanders left New York for Vermont in 1968. Still, he’s cast himself as a native son of the state.
He sees the New York contest as a springboard into primaries out West and a chance to close his more than 250-delegate gap with Clinton.
The Vermont senator must win 68 per cent of the remaining delegates and uncommitted super delegates if he hopes to clinch the Democratic nomination. That would require huge victories by Sanders in upcoming states big and small, including New York.
Whack reported from Philadelphia. Associated Press writer Lisa Lerer contributed to this report.