With the first contests of the Democratic primary drawing near and the race tightening, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley met on a stage in Charleston on Sunday night for the fourth Democratic debate in a contest with firmly drawn battle lines.
The three candidates have sparred in past debates, but with the temperature rising and candidates launching full-frontal attacks against each other regularly on the campaign trail, Sunday night’s contest was expected to have a sharper tone.
The stakes are high: this debate is the last before the Iowa caucuses, where Sanders and Clinton are locked in a near-even battle to win the first contest in the Democratic primary. The impression Clinton and her insurgent challenger, Sanders, make on Sunday could presage their performance on Feb. 1; the debate is the candidates’ final chance to reach a national audience before voting begins.
In recent weeks, gun control and healthcare have become the sharpest points of contention between frontrunners Clinton and Sanders. Clinton has accused Sanders of being weak on gun control, pointing to his repeated votes against the Brady Bill and in support of the so-called Charleston Loophole, which allows gun buyers to bypass a background check if it is not completed in three days.
“When it really mattered, Senator Sanders voted with the gun lobby and I voted against the gun lobby,” Clinton said last week, referring to Sanders’ vote in favor of a 2005 law that protected gun manufacturers from legal liability.
Clinton also said Sanders’ single-payer healthcare proposal would likelyrequire a tax hike on the middle class, saying in an interview this week with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that Sanders’ single-payer plan would “dismantle healthcare as we know it.”
Sanders, for his part, has said Clinton would not be tough enough regulating Wall Street banks and said he would be more likely to win against a Republican in a general election in November. “In terms of bringing young people and working class people into the political process, an objective assessment will suggest that our campaign has a lot more momentum and a lot more energy than secretary Clinton’s campaign.”
With the candidates debating in Charleston, S.C., where nine African-Americans were shot and killed in June, gun control is likely to be a prominent sparring point. The venue for the debate is a short walk from the Emanuel A.M.E. Church, where the shooting occurred.
This article was originally published on Time.com.