In an awkward attempt to court black voters, Clinton and Sanders bicker over who loves Obama more

Candidates to Obama: “Love you, mean it!”
Candidates to Obama: “Love you, mean it!”
Image: AP Photo/Morry Gash
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Who loves Barack Obama the most? That was the implicit question of the Feb. 11 Democratic debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton bickered about who was more loyal to the US president.

“I don’t think [Obama] gets the credit he deserves,” Clinton said. She praised the president’s accomplishments while highlighting Sanders’s criticisms of him, noting in particular a blurb the Vermont senator lent to a book titled Buyer’s Remorse: How Obama let Progressives Down, by liberal talk-radio host Bill Press.

“The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans, I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed president Obama,” she said.

Sanders called the remark a “low blow,” explaining that he feels, despite “unprecedented Republican obstructionism,” the Obama administration has facilitated “enormous progress.”

“One of us ran against Barack Obama,” Sanders added. “I was not that candidate.” It’s worth noting, however, that Sanders weighed a primary challenge against the president when he ran for reelection in 2012.

Sanders has continued to publicly question president Obama’s leadership to this day. “There’s a huge gap right now between Congress and the American people,” he told MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell on Feb. 10. “What presidential leadership is about [is] closing that gap.” In an Oct. 2015 interview with MSNBC, he said that the president and vice president have done “a damn good job,” but that America needs a “course correction.”

So why the change of heart? It’s perhaps a response to the Clinton campaign ratcheting up criticism of the Vermont senator on precisely this point.

Clinton is making a strategic move ahead of the South Carolina primary, where a substantial percentage of the electorate is African American. President Obama’s approval rating among black voters has remained consistently high throughout his two terms in office, with 91% of African Americans expressing approval of his performance in a CNN/ORC poll from June 2015.