MILWAUKEE - Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton accused rival Bernie Sanders in a debate on Thursday of misleading Americans about the costs and viability of his healthcare plan, saying he was making promises "that cannot be kept."
In their sixth presidential debate, Clinton said Sanders' proposal for a single-payer, Medicare-for-all healthcare plan would mean dismantling Obamacare and triggering another intense political struggle.
"You need to level with people about what they will have at the end of the process you are proposing," Clinton said.
"Based on every analysis I can find by people who are sympathetic to the goal, the numbers don’t add up," she said. "That's a promise that cannot be kept."
Sanders said he would not dismantle the healthcare plan known as Obamacare and was simply moving to provide what most industrialized countries have - healthcare coverage for all.
"We're not going to dismantle anything," Sanders said. "In my view healthcare is a right of all people, not a privilege, and I will fight for that."
With the presidential race moving into states with larger minority populations, both candidates decried the high incarceration rate of African-Americans and called for broad reforms of the criminal justice system. Sanders said black incarceration rates were "one of the great tragedies" in the United States.
“That is beyond unspeakable,” Sanders said of a disproportionately high black male prison population. He called for "fundamental police reform" that would "make it clear that any police officer who breaks the law will in fact be dealt with."
Clinton criticized what she said was "systemic racism" in education, housing and employment. "When we talk about criminal justice reform … we also have to talk about jobs, education, housing and other ways of helping communities of color," she said.
Clinton entered Thursday's debate under acute pressure to calm a growing sense of nervousness among her supporters after a 22-point drubbing by Sanders on Tuesday in the New Hampshire primary election and a razor-thin win last week in the Iowa caucus. Both states have nearly all-white populations.
For his part, Sanders, an independent U.S. senator of Vermont who calls himself a democratic socialist, hoped to harness the momentum and enthusiasm he gained from the first two contests and prove he can be a viable contender to lead the Democratic Party to victory in the Nov. 8 presidential election.
"What our campaign is indicating is that the American people are tired of establishment politics," Sanders said. "They want a political revolution."
The race now moves to what should be more favorable ground for Clinton in Nevada and South Carolina, states with more black and Hispanic voters, who, polls show, have been more supportive of Clinton so far.
Clinton, a former secretary of state, on Thursday won a significant endorsement from the Congressional Black Caucus, while Sanders has launched his own effort to make inroads among African-American voters.
Sanders met with civil rights leader Al Sharpton the morning after his New Hampshire win, and has aired advertising and built up staff quickly in both Nevada and South Carolina. The debate on Thursday was the last one before those two contests.
After South Carolina on Feb. 27, the presidential race accelerates with 28 states voting in rapid succession in March, including 11 states on March 1 and big prizes such as Ohio, Florida and Illinois on March 15.
(Additional reporting by Amanda Becker, Alana Wise and Megan Cassella in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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