Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), right, speaks with host Anderson Cooper during a town hall in Derry, N.H.
In a CNN televised town hall forum Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) conceded that he can’t carry a tune and doesn’t chop his own wood. But he said he would relish taking on Donald Trump, and that he is the Democratic candidate best suited to winning the general election.
“Democrats win elections when there is a large voter turnout. Republicans win elections when people are demoralized and give up on the process,” he said. “I think I can drive a large voter turnout, bring in new energy into the Democratic Party.”
Sanders, who is in a surprisingly close race for the Democratic presidential nomination with Hillary Clinton, emphasized their differences without ever losing his cool or getting thrown off message.
The forum, televised nationally from Derry, N.H., came less than a week before that state hosts the first-in-the-nation presidential primary and hot off Clinton's narrow win in the Iowa caucuses Monday. Wednesday's event wasn’t a debate between the two candidates, but back-to-back interviews with CNN host Anderson Cooper, with questions from the audience.
The two will debate Thursday in Durham at an event hosted by MSNBC, and the Democratic National Committee agreed Wednesday to add further debates later in the campaign.
Sanders’ wife, Jane, even chimed in as Cooper asked for one word to describe her husband. “Integrity,” she said.
Though the two candidates didn’t face off directly, they continued a back-and-forth that started earlier in the day on Twitter, with Sanders challenging whether Clinton is a legitimate progressive.
“You can’t be a moderate and a progressive. They are different,” Sanders said. "I do not know any progressive who has a super PAC and takes $15 million from Wall Street. That's just not progressive."
Sanders’ campaign followed up with an email to media, listing 24 issues on which it claimed Clinton’s stance didn’t qualify as progressive, from voting for the Iraq war to supporting charter schools.
On stage, Clinton dismissed the delineation: "I don't think it helps for the senator to be making those kinds of comparisons because clearly we all share the same hopes and aspirations for our country."
The former secretary of state, senator and first lady said she was “amused” that Sanders had cast himself as the progressive gatekeeper. President Obama, Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and the late Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota wouldn’t meet his definition, she charged.
Cooper turned the question around and asked Sanders if he’s a Democrat. “Of course I am a Democrat," asserted the senator, disregarding his frequent boast that he is the longest-serving independent in Congress and has never been elected to office as a Democrat.
Clinton and Sanders both heralded Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin’s efforts to address opiate addiction. But Clinton made sure to note that Shumlin has endorsed her. The governor plans to campaign in New Hampshire for Clinton on Thursday.
Sanders fielded questions from those doubting the 74-year-old former Burlington mayor could win the presidency or that he has the foreign policy experience needed.
“I do very well with independents,” he said of his electability. He later said he would relish running against Republican Donald Trump. He accused Trump of making “bigoted” and “absurd” remarks about Latinos and Muslims and also of not supporting the working class.
Sanders tempered expectations about the New Hampshire primary, where polls show him with a strong lead, saying he thought it would be “close.”
On foreign policy, he praised Clinton’s experience as secretary of state, then whacked her over her vote in the Senate to support the war in Iraq. Contrary to her, he emphasized: “I have the judgment.”