Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the two top-polling candidates seeking the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, will be the focus of attention in Tuesday’s first Democratic debate.

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WASHINGTON — On the campaign trail, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders shy away from direct mentions of each other.

But when the two top-polling candidates in the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination face off for the first time Tuesday in the initial Democratic debate, it will be hard to escape the fact that they have different approaches to major issues, from war to paychecks.

Although the two will share the Las Vegas debate stage with former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, attention will focus on Clinton and Sanders. A preview of where the two top candidates differ:

Super PACs

Sanders pledges not to accept support from any of the political-action committees (PACs) that can raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals. He has introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allowed the committees to proliferate, and says one of his criteria for picking Supreme Court justices will be a willingness to overturn the decision. “That nominee will say that we are going to overturn this disastrous Supreme Court decision on Citizens United,” Sanders said on “Face the Nation” in May. “Because that decision is undermining American democracy. I do not believe that billionaires should be able to buy politicians.”

Clinton has not ruled out super-PAC money and is benefiting from at least two working primarily on her behalf, Priorities USA Action and American Bridge 21st Century. She has said, however, she would appoint Supreme Court justices “who value the right to vote over the right of billionaires to buy elections” and would push for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.


Sanders opposed the 1993 Brady bill, which established federal background checks and a waiting period for potential gun owners. He has explained that he represents a largely rural state where guns “mean different things to people” than in more urban states. As a result, he’s argued that he could play a role in bringing opposing sides together. He notes that he later voted for and supports a ban on semi-automatic weapons, closing the so-called gun-show loophole and tightening background checks.

Clinton, after the Roseburg, Ore., community-college shootings, called for gun control and said she’d act unilaterally if Congress failed to tighten gun-show and Internet sales loopholes. She also backs legislation to prevent domestic abusers from buying and possessing firearms and would seek to repeal a 2005 law known as the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which prevents gun manufacturers and dealers in some cases from being sued. Sanders voted for the law in 2005; Clinton voted against it.

Health care

Sanders has championed single-payer, universal-health care.

Clinton has said she would expand coverage through the existing Affordable Care Act.

Iraq war

Clinton, then a New York senator, voted in October 2002 to authorize military force against Iraq. In her 2014 book, she said she voted “after weighing the evidence and seeking as many opinions as I could.” She subsequently said she got it wrong and should not have voted for authorization.

Sanders, then a member of the House of Representatives, voted against the use of force in Iraq, saying in 2002 that he was worried about the “problems of so-called unintended consequences” and that “war must be the last recourse in international relations, not the first.”

USA Patriot Act

Sanders voted against the surveillance law passed by Congress in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and has voted against its reauthorization since.

He wrote in Time magazine in May that he “believed then and am even more convinced today that the law gave the government far too much power to spy on Americans and that it provided too little oversight or disclosure.”

Clinton voted for the Patriot Act in 2001 as a U.S. senator. She, however, voiced support in May for legislation that President Obama endorsed to end the government’s bulk collection of phone records.


Clinton called for a no-fly zone in Syria the day after Russia began a bombing campaign in the country to support President Bashar Assad.

Sanders opposes a “unilateral American no-fly zone in Syria which could get us more deeply involved in that horrible civil war and lead to a never-ending U.S. entanglement in that region.”


Sanders proposes a “College for All Act” that would make college a right, eliminating tuition at all four-year public colleges and universities. He says the U.S. should ensure “every qualified American in this country who has the ability and desire to go to college is able to … regardless of the income of his or her family.”

Clinton’s “New College Compact” promises that students would “never have to borrow to pay for tuition, books and fees to attend a four-year public college in their state,” though it would require that students work 10 hours a week.

Keystone pipeline

Sanders opposes the pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada into the U.S. He helped “lead the effort in the Senate against the Keystone pipeline,” he told “Face the Nation” in June, “because I think, if we’re serious about reversing climate change, you don’t excavate and transport some of the dirtiest fossil fuel in the world.”

Clinton, who as secretary of state oversaw the department’s yet-to-be-completed review, refused for months to say where she stood. On Sept. 22 she announced her opposition, saying the project is a “distraction from important work we have to do on climate change.”

Minimum wage

Sanders introduced legislation in July to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. He called the current federal minimum wage — $7.25 an hour — “a starvation wage,” and said employees who work 40 hours a week “have a right not to be living in poverty.”

Clinton has stopped short of endorsing a federal $15-an-hour measure. She has supported legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 and backs local efforts in Los Angeles and New York to raise the minimum wage to $15. But she noted in July that “what you can do in L.A. or in New York may not work in other places.”


Sanders has voted against U.S. trade pacts, saying they’re bad for American workers. He has been a sharp critic of what he calls Obama’s “disastrous” Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact involving the United States and 11 other nations, and vows to “do all that I can” to thwart the agreement in the Senate.

Clinton supported Obama’s trade deal as his secretary of state, but after months of not saying where she stood, she came out in opposition Oct. 7, saying the pact doesn’t “meet the high bar I have set.”