New York – In the ninth Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders sparred about big banks, foreign policy and gun control.
The showdown took place at a critical time in the race, with the Vermont senator giving the former Secretary of State a much bigger challenge than her campaign ever expected.
Clinton is eyeing a victory in her adopted home state of New York's primary next Tuesday, aiming to blunt Sanders' recent string of primary and caucus victories and put his pursuit of the nomination further out of reach. A Sanders upset – or even a narrow defeat – of Clinton would shake up the race, raising fresh concerns about her candidacy.
The location of the debate – Brooklyn – held significance for both candidates, for different reasons. It is where Sanders was born and where Clinton has her campaign headquarters.
But the two-hour debate in New York, which has the nation’s fourth largest Latino population in the nation, lacked any discussion about one of the most important and fastest-growing electorates.
There was no question – or even a mention by the contenders – of immigration, one of the most debated issues in this presidential election, and the subject of many campaign speeches and advertising by candidates of both parties.
At one point, both Clinton and Sanders spoke about disadvantages faced by minorities, but Latinos were not mentioned.
Sanders made specific reference to African-Americans when he spoke about the overrepresentation of blacks in the prison population,and underemployment and unemployment among young blacks.
Clinton said that whites must face that racism that still exists in the United States.
Unemployment and incarceration rates are also problems in the Latino community, but they were not mentioned. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says on its website, "Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58 percent of all prisoners in 2008, even though African-Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the U.S. population."
The only mention of Latinos, in fact, occurred when Clinton described the coalition of voters backing her as including "African-Americans, women, Latinos, union members."
New York's Latino population, at 3.7 million, nearly 20 percent of New York's residents, according to the Pew Research Center.
New York's Latino community is one of the country's most diverse. New York has a large Puerto Rican population, which the late Mayor Ed Koch used to like to note was larger than San Juan's. It's also home to large numbers of Dominicans, Colombians, Cuban-Americans and, in the last 15 years or so, Mexicans who have come seeking higher salaries and more acceptance than they found in states in the Southwest and West.
Nearly two million of New York's Latinos are eligible to vote, according to Pew.
In her opening statement, the former First Lady invoked New York several times, expressing pride in “New York values” – a clear reference to GOP candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, who derided “New York values” during a debate to criticize his rival Donald Trump.
“We will celebrate our diversity, we will work together, bringing us back to being united,” Clinton said. “That’s what I’m offering in this campaign.”
Sanders said in his opening statement that he's determined to end a "rigged economy" where the rich get richer and everyone else gets poorer. He says he wants to create an economy that works for everyone and not just the top one percent of Americans.
Later Sanders questioned Clinton's judgment in supporting the war in Iraq and accepting financial support from super PACs.
He asked, "Do we really feel confident about a candidate saying she is going to bring change in America when she is so dependent on big-money interests?"
Clinton said she would order regulators to break up banks if they don't pass their stress tests or submit adequate "living wills" as required by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill.
Sanders countered that he doesn't need Dodd-Frank's guidelines to tell him the banks are too big.
Sanders recently angered the Clinton campaign when he suggested she was unqualified to be president, an assertion he later walked back. While Clinton didn't explicitly call Sanders unqualified, she has raised questions about the depth of his policy expertise and did so again in the debate.
She noted the "kind of problems" Sanders had answering questions about breaking up big banks and saying he could not answer a number of questions on foreign policy.
Clinton said, "I think you need the judgment on Day 1 to be both president and commander-in-chief."
Sanders had a big victory earlier this month in Wisconsin. But because Democrats award their delegates proportionally instead of a winner-take-all model, he's struggled to cut into the lead Clinton took earlier in the primary season. He's also failed to persuade superdelegates – party insiders who can back the candidate of their choice regardless of how their states vote – to switch from Clinton.
Clinton has accumulated 1,289 pledged delegates from primaries and caucuses while Sanders has 1,038. Her lead grows significantly when the superdelegates are added in: 1,758 to 1,069.
It takes 2,383 delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination. Sanders would need to win 68 percent of the remaining delegates and uncommitted superdelegates to reach that figure.
Despite his long odds, Sanders has vowed to stay in the race through the party's convention in July. Backed by legions of loyal supporters, he's amassed impressive fundraising totals that give him the financial wherewithal to do just that.
Still, there have been signs in New York that Clinton is starting to turn her eye toward the general election. She's run two ads here targeting GOP front-runner Donald Trump, a native New Yorker, and his policies on immigration.
And with Trump facing the prospect of a contested convention fight with rival Ted Cruz, Clinton has taken on the Texas senator as well.
"I'm really looking forward to debating either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz," Clinton during a campaign stop in Rochester last week. "I mean, it's going to be good."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.