The three candidates competing for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination made their pitches to a largely undecided Iowa audience Monday night in a televised town hall meeting, as polls showed frontrunner Hillary Clinton's lead dwindling over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The forum, hosted by CNN at Drake University in Des Moines, came just seven days before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses and on the same day that a Fox News Poll showed Clinton’s national lead narrowed to its slimmest margin yet -- with her support slipping under 50 percent.
When asked about her dwindling lead, Clinton shrugged off the suggestion that her campaign was in trouble, saying “it’s a tough campaign, but it should be -- it’s the hardest job in the world.”
She went on to praise the nature of the Democratic debates in comparison to the Republicans: “the other side is not talking issues, they’re talking insults.”
Clinton was hit by one particularly awkward question about how she would generate enthusiasm among young people, with the questioner saying his friends “think you’re dishonest.”
Clinton responded by citing her long time in the spotlight and saying that people have thrown a lot at her over the years.
"They throw all this stuff at me and I'm still standing," Clinton said. When asked later if she was slow to apologize for her use of a private email account and a personal Internet server while serving as secretary of state, Clinton said, "I think that's a fair criticism."
She also claimed the questions surrounding the 2012 Benghazi terror attack are still open because Republicans are motivated by partisan political interests.
Despite her criticisms of Republicans, she told a questioner that she would be able to work with Republicans in Congress to pass her agenda, joking “I’m going to be giving them all bear hugs, whether they like it or not."
Sanders addressed one of his most controversial proposals head on, admitting that he would be prepared to raise taxes in order to pay for his health care plans.
“We will raise taxes, yes we will,” Sanders said. “Yes, we may raise taxes but we are going to remove private health care insurance premiums for individuals and businesses,” Sanders said.
“If you're paying $10,000 a year to a private insurance company, and hypothetically, you’re going to pay $5,000 more in taxes, or actually less than that, but you’re not going to pay any more private health insurance, are you going to be complaining about the fact that I’ve saved you $5,000 in your total bills?” Sanders asked.
He also said that he was surprised at how well his campaign has been going, saying “our message has resonated much further, must faster than I thought.”
“We are touching a nerve with the American people who understand that establishment politics just aren't bold enough," Sanders said.
O’Malley was asked about his chances of winning the Democratic nomination, despite consistently polling in low single-digits. He responded by assuring voters “I am in this to win this.”
When asked if he had a message for his supporters at the caucus if faced with a situation in which they did not reach the minimum level of support required, he responded, “My message to O’Malley supporters is ‘hold strong at your caucus because America is looking for a new leader.'"
The Associated Press contributed to this report.