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Nov 29, 2015 10:46 PM

Steinhauser: Clinton, Sanders, O'Malley take aim at GOP at NHDP Dinner

NH1 Political Director -

MANCHESTER – Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley took shots at the Republican White House contenders Sunday evening, as they took turns speaking at the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.

While Clinton didn’t mention either of her rivals, both Sanders and O’Malley took barely veiled jabs at the former secretary of state.

The candidates spoke in front of an audience of some 1,400 people, which the state party said was one of the largest crowds for the JJ dinner, which is their biggest annual fundraiser. The party added that some $250,000 was raised by the event.

Sanders was the first presidential candidate to take to the podium. The independent senator from Vermont received thunderous cheers from his supporters as he arrived. While Clinton’s the front runner in national polling and in surveys in Iowa and South Carolina, the other two early voting states in the primary and caucus calendar, the two candidates are all tied up in the Granite State.

While critical of the GOP candidates, Sanders also drew contrasts with Clinton.

“As a member of Congress, I voted against the war in Iraq in 2002,” said Sanders. “I listened carefully to what President Bush, Dick Cheney and others in the Bush administration were saying – and I didn’t believe them. And it gives me no joy to tell you that much of what I feared would happen, in terms of the destabilization of the region, did happen.”

Sanders has often criticized Clinton for her vote as a senator from New York State in support of the Iraq war. And Sanders also highlighted Clinton’s recent move to oppose the controversial Keystone Pipeline after refusing for months to take a position.

“Because climate change is the greatest environmental challenge of our time, I opposed the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from day one,” he said.

And Sanders went on to weigh in on an issue crucial to many New Hampshire voters, saying “that is why – right here in New Hampshire – I believe the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas for 400 miles through 17 communities is a bad idea – and should be opposed.”

O’Malley took aim at both Sanders and Clinton at the top of his speech, saying “I’m a former Mayor of Baltimore, former Governor of Maryland. I’m not a former socialist. I’m not a former Republican. I’m a life-long Democrat.”

Sanders, who now says he’s a Democrat as he runs for the party’s presidential nomination, long called himself a Democratic-Socialist as a congressman and senator from Vermont. And Clinton was a Young Republican during her college days in the 1960’s.

But O’Malley grabbed his biggest applause from his attacks on Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump.

“And to that immigrant bashing, carnival barker, Donald Trump, let us stand up together, and say, the enduring symbol of our nation is not the barbed wire fence,... it is the Statue of Liberty,” said O’Malley.

The slams on Trump even elicited cheers from Clinton and Sanders supporters.

Clinton was last to speak, and like Sanders, received a wild welcome from her supporters in the Armory at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, where the dinner was held.

But acknowledging that many in the audience were looking forward to some Sunday night football, Clinton said at the beginning of her speech that “I realize I’m all that stands between you and the Patriots game.”

All three candidates discussed the battle against ISIS and all three defended Planned Parenthood as they weighed in on Friday’s deadly shootings at a clinic in Colorado.

“How many more Americans need to die before we take action?” Clinton said.

At the end of her speech, Clinton played to her audience, saying how she’s fighting for specific New Hampshire voters she’s met during her time on the campaign trail.

Clinton and Sanders had an approximate equal number of supporters in the audience. And supporters of all three candidates held rallies earlier in the day in Manchester.

As always, state party Chairman Ray Buckley was an enthusiastic and energetic master of ceremonies. The state’s top two Democrats, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan, also spoke at the dinner. Shaheen, who was re-elected to a second term last year, took aim at the Republican presidential candidates. And Hassan, who is running for the Senate next year rather than for re-election, took aim at her opponent, GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

The Republican National Committee fired back at the Democratic presidential candidates.

"The Democrats presented a predictably stale evening of liberal politicians proposing to spend trillions more that we don't have," said RNC spokesman Raffi Williams.

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