Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, shake hands before the start of the Univision, Washington Post Democratic debate at Miami-Dade College.
By Nancy Benac and Lisa Lerer / Associated Press
MIAMI — Fighting for Florida and beyond, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders tangled repeatedly in their eighth presidential debate Wednesday night over who’s a true advocate for Latinos and who has a track record of letting Hispanics down.
They also seemed to reject the Obama administration’s decision to deport children along with their families, if they have arrived recently and have been ordered deported by the judge.
The candidates headed into the debate than when they last squared off testily, with Mr. Sanders riding high after his upset victory in Michigan and Ms. Clinton’s camp offering reassurances that she’s still on track to claim the nomination.
Facing off just six days before Florida gives its verdict on the presidential race, Ms. Clinton faulted Mr. Sanders for repeatedly voting against a 2007 comprehensive immigration overhaul bill; he faulted her for opposing a 2007 effort to allow people who were in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses.
Had the immigration package passed back then, Ms. Clinton said, “a lot of the issues we are still discussing today would be in the rearview mirror.”
Mr. Sanders retorted that he opposed the legislation because it included a guest worker program “akin to slavery.”
Ms. Clinton kept pushing on immigration, accusing Mr. Sanders of supporting legislation that would have led to indefinite detention of people facing deportation, and for standing with Minutemen vigilantes. He called that notion “ridiculous” and accused Ms. Clinton of picking small pieces out of big legislative packages to distort his voting record.
“No, I do not support vigilantes and that is a horrific statement and an unfair statement to make,” he said, adding: “I will match my record against yours any day of the week.”
Mr. Sanders also called for Ms. Clinton to release the transcripts of her lucrative private speeches to Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs, and accused her of misrepresenting her vote for a federal bailout of the auto industry. Ms. Clinton, meanwhile, took a swipe at Bernie Sanders’ spending plans and accused him of focusing his economic attacks on the past two Democratic presidents — rather than former Republican President George W. Bush.
Still, the overall tone of the candidates was considerably less tense than their Sunday faceoff. Mr. Sanders even paused at one point to make fun of his own pronunciation of “huge” as “yuge.”
The two did see eye to eye on the subject of Republican Donald Trump’s campaign. Mr. Sanders said voters will “never elect” someone like Mr. Trump, pointing out that he has insulted many kinds of people. Ms. Clinton called Mr. Trump “un-American,” and drew laughs by saying the billionaire wants to build “a beautiful, tall wall” that will “magically” be paid for by the Mexican government.
Later, Ms. Clinton and Mr. Sanders reiterated their support for Mr. Obama’s decision to resume relations with Cuba. Ms. Clinton says she helped Mr. Obama craft parts of the new policy while she was secretary of state.
Univision’s Jorge Ramos hit Ms. Clinton with a blunt question in the debate’s opening moments, asking: “If you’re indicted [over the handling of her email while secretary of state], will you drop out?”
“Oh for goodness, that is not going to happen,” Ms. Clinton declared. “I’m not even answering that question.”
Mr. Sanders called his victory in Michigan on Tuesday evidence that his message is resonating.
Ms. Clinton noted that she won more voters and delegates thanks to her lopsided Mississippi primary win Tuesday.
With Florida offering the biggest prize in next Tuesday’s round of voting, the state is home to nearly 1.8 million Hispanics, including about 15 percent of the state’s Democrats.
The candidates also are focusing on a broader audience, with Missouri, Illinois, Ohio and North Carolina also in next Tuesday’s primary lineup, and a total of 691 delegates at stake.
Ms. Clinton has won 762 pledged delegates compared to 549 for Mr. Sanders. When superdelegates are included, Ms. Clinton leads 1,223 to 574, more than halfway to the 2,383 needed to win the Democratic nomination.
In the Republican field, Mr. Trump won easy victories Tuesday in Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii, while Texas Sen. Ted Cruz added a win in Idaho.
Mr. Trump leads with 428 delegates, followed by Mr. Cruz — who Wednesday was endorsed by former Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina — with 315, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio with 151 and Ohio Gov. John Kasich with 52. Winning the GOP nomination requires 1,237 delegates.