By Nancy Benac and Lisa Lerer
March 9, 2016
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders head into Wednesday night's debate with a far different vibe than when they last squared off just four days ago — Sanders riding high after his upset victory in Michigan and Clinton's camp offering reassurances that she's still on track to claim the nomination.
With Florida offering the biggest prize in the next round of voting, the two campaigns began tussling over who's been a true advocate for Latinos and who's a friend out of political convenience even before taking the candidates took the stage for their eighth debate of the primary season.
Sanders said his Michigan triumph amounted to a public repudiation of establishment efforts to wrap up the primary and hand the nomination to Clinton.
"Last night our political revolution scored 'one of the greatest upsets in modern political history,' and we're seeing the same kind of come-from-behind momentum all across America," he wrote in a fund-raising letter to supporters.
Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, put the spotlight on Clinton's still commanding lead in Democratic delegates.
"We are confident we are nearing the point where our delegate lead will effectively become insurmountable," he said.
The candidates are squaring off again after a testy debate in Michigan on Sunday in which they argued about trade and economic issues of particular interest in the industrial Midwest. This time, immigration and other issues of special concern to the Latino community are sure to loom large. Florida is home to nearly 1.8 million Hispanics, including about 15 percent of the state's Democrats.
The candidates also will be speaking to a broader audience, though, with Missouri, Illinois, Ohio and North Carolina also in Tuesday's primary lineup, with a total of 691 delegates at stake.
A good share of Florida voters already have locked in their decisions: nearly 487,000 Democrats have cast an early ballot, representing about 11 percent of registered Democrats.
In advance of the debate, airing on Univision and CNN, the two campaigns held rival conference calls, each side arguing that its candidate was strongest on Latino issues and that the other side's motivations are suspect.
"Hillary is the only one we can trust to lead 11 million people out of the shadows into the light," said Illinois Rep. Luis Guitterez, pointing to Sanders' vote against immigration reform legislation in 2007.
Sander's campaign played up his immigrant roots and pointed to Clinton's hesitation in 2007 on allowing people who were in the country illegally to obtain driver licenses.
"We've seen many troubling instances throughout the secretary's career where her relationship, her support for the Latino community has been one of convenience," said Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver.
Hispanic voters have made up about 10 percent of voters in the Democratic primaries so far this year, and Clinton has been getting about two-thirds of their votes to about one-third for Sanders. The Vermont senator, for his part, stresses that he's making progress on winning over younger Hispanics.
One week out from the Florida primary, Clinton holds a lead in opinion polls there. But she also led in pre-primary polls in Michigan, where Sanders surprised her with a 50 percent to 48 percent victory.
Clinton has won 760 pledged delegates compared to 546 for Sanders, with 15 delegates from recent primaries still to be allocated. When superdelegates are included, Clinton leads 1,221 to 571. It takes 2,383 delegates to win the Democratic nomination.
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