clinton sanders o'malley south carolina
Democratic presidential candidates (L - R) Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders pose for a photo at a presidential forum Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina November 6, 2015. They will return to a another stage in the same state at the 4th Democratic debate on Jan. 17th in Charleston. The debate will be moderated by NBC. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Gun control is likely to top the agenda Charleston, North Carolina this week first at tonight’s Republican debate and then on Sunday, when Democratic presidential rivals face off for the last time before the first round of state primaries in New Hampshire and Iowa. Maryland Gov. Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley qualified for the NBC debate, which required a minimum of five percentage points of support in recent polls. South Carolina is still reeling from the murder of nine black parishioners in a Charleston church by self-identified white supremacist Dylan Roof who legally purchased the gun used in the attack.

Gun Control

State legislators are considering a bill to lengthen the deadline for federal investigators to complete background checks from 3 days to 28 days. Clinton has criticized Sanders for voting for the 3 day federal window, as part of a bill passed by her husband Bill Clinton in 1993.

“You know, there was a loophole, my opponent voted for it, Senator Sanders, that at the end of three days, business days, you get that gun whether they have finished the background check or not,” Clinton said at a campaign rally on Tuesday. “The killer in Charleston who brought that gun, if they had just spent a little more time, it would’ve been discovered, he should not have been able to buy the gun, because he had a federal record.”

Bernie Sanders has downplayed the importance of gun control, and stressed that metropolitan voters need to recognize the realities of rural gun culture. He has since endorsed a number of cun control proposals, including universal background checks.

Health Care

Clinton attacks on another issue, health care, backfired this week when her daughter Chelsea mischaracterized Bernie Sander’s proposal for a single-payer system. Despite the goal of the Affordable Care Act to lead to universal health care coverage, a large gap remains.

"It is time for the United States to join the rest of the industrialized world and provide health care as a right to every man, woman and child. A Medicare-for-all plan will save the average middle-class family $5,000 a year,” Sanders campaign spokesperson Arianna Jones said in a statement.

Another message from the Sanders campaign compared her tactics to those of GOP strategist Karl Rove (an accusation she made of then-candidate Barack Obama for criticizing universal health care in 2008).

Considering the events in Charleston last and Obama’s calls for gun control in recent weeks, it would not be surprising of O’Malley focuses on gun control as well. He’s already used his limited profile in the campaign to highlight the issue. For example, he’s given access to gun reform advocates Lonnie and Sandy Phillips, who lost their daughter in the 2012 Aurora movie theater shootings.


A third issue, immigration, may loom large over the debates as Democrats become increasingly frustrated with a series of immigration raids carried out by the Obama administration. Sanders and O’Malley immediately denounced the deportations, while Clinton said that they they were cause for concern.

Both Sanders and Clinton have been criticized by immigration advocates, he for voting against an immigration reform bill in 2007 and she for supporting the detention and expedited deportation of Central American families as Obama’s Sec. of state. O’Malley has courted immigration voters the hardest of any candidate outside the debates, but has been relatively mum in that rhetorical ring.

The Horse Race

Sanders and Clinton are fighting for support in New Hampshire and Iowa according to the latest polling, with the Senator leading in the former and the Secretary leading in the latter. O’Malley’s campaign recently failed to collect enough signatures to make it on the Ohio primary ballot, let enough make him competitive in any state.

That O’Malley even qualified for the debate is a minor victory for the floundering campaign. Media outlets predicted that he might not make the cut in Iowa, but he eked the minimum of five points from Democratic voters in that state in a poll released on Thursday.

Democrats looking to score points on Sunday might focus more on Republicans than their immediate opponents. Republican presidential candidates face off tonight for a debate, also held in Charleston, South Carolina. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and other candidates have spoken forcefully in favor of gun rights.

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