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Democrats shift focus to fighting ISIS during N.H. speeches

Hillary Clinton spoke at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Manchester, N.H. on Sunday.
Hillary Clinton spoke at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Manchester, N.H. on Sunday.Darren McCollester/Getty Images

MANCHESTER, N.H. — The three major Democrats running for president gathered on the same stage in New Hampshire Sunday night but, unlike in previous events, their pitch to voters included a heavy focus on how they would handle the threat from the Islamic State.

The shift in rhetoric from the candidates, addressing 1,400 people at a fund-raising dinner for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, reflects the change on the campaign since terrorist attacks in Paris this month.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has based his populist campaign on the idea that the nation's growing income inequality gap is the moral and economic issue of our time, nonetheless devoted a third of his 30-minute speech to how to address the threat of terrorism by groups such as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

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"As everybody knows, we live in a difficult and dangerous world, and there are people out there who want to do us harm," Sanders said. "As president, I will defend this nation — but I will do it responsibly. We do not need a quote-unquote 'tough foreign policy.' We need a quote-unquote 'smart foreign policy' that achieves our goals."

Sanders argued that as president he would ask Middle Eastern countries to take the lead with American support.

"The fight against ISIS is a struggle for the soul of Islam, and countering violent extremism and destroying ISIS must be done primarily by Muslim nations," Sanders said.

This stood in contrast to his rivals, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, who both called for a more robust response.

"This is personal to me," Clinton said, noting that she served as a senator from New York during the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. She told the audience: "You are not just electing a president, you are picking a commander in chief."

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For his part, O'Malley said the Islamic State required a broader, US-led coalition.

"This violent jihadist extremism known as ISIS must be confronted and destroyed," O'Malley said. "This is a global problem that requires a global solution."

Despite increased attention to the unstable world situation, the bulk of the speeches Sunday at the Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson dinner focused on domestic issues, such as middle class economic anxiety and abortion rights. All three also mentioned the recent mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.

With a little more than two months until the New Hampshire primary, surveys show a statistical tie between Clinton and Sanders in the Democratic contest. A Fox News poll of New Hampshire Democrats released last week showed Sanders leading Clinton 45 percent to 44 percent, within the margin of error. The poll showed O'Malley having 5 percent support.

None of the candidates directly challenged one another by name but made their targets well known nonetheless.

Sanders decried "establishment politics" and a "same-old, same-old" approach, in responding to Clinton's endorsement of the state's sitting Democratic senator, governor, and US representative.

Clinton, for her part, referred to policy ideas that were clearly part of Sanders' approach and dismissed them as "not smart" or "promising things that will never happen."

Earlier on Sunday, Clinton brought her Democratic presidential campaign to historic Faneuil Hall, where, alongside Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston, she unveiled a new national infrastructure platform aimed at improving roads and bridges.

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Hillary Clinton greeted supporters during a campaign rally at Faneuil Hall.
Hillary Clinton greeted supporters during a campaign rally at Faneuil Hall.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

Clinton announced the five-year $275 billion plan in front of heads of international trade unions and their members, nearly all wearing colored shirts denoting their particular union. In addition to $250 billion in direct investment from the federal government, an additional $25 billion would establish a national infrastructure bank, providing loans to cities and states for local projects, like to expand convention centers or improve airports.

Clinton's campaign said this money would come from unspecified "business tax reform." More details on how the program would work are expected to be released Monday.

Clinton signaled that any changes to business taxes will not include an increase in personal income taxes. "I'm the only Democrat in this race who will pledge to raise your income, not your taxes," she said.

Clinton's 35-minute speech to a capacity crowd in Faneuil's Great Hall was part policy proposal and part campaign rally. Hundreds lined up hours before the event for a seat.

At the Faneuil Hall event, Walsh introduced Clinton and formally endorsed her.

A former labor leader, Walsh told union members to "get your sledgehammers ready. We've got a glass ceiling to demolish" referring to Clinton's attempt to become the first woman to be US president.

Next year Massachusetts is to hold its primary just three weeks after New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation one. A Suffolk University poll released in the last week showed Clinton is poised to win in Massachusetts.


James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell. Click here to subscribe to his daily e-mail update on the 2016 campaign.

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