Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont refused to attack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s personal affairs during the Jan. 17 Democratic debate (video below).
When asked about her husband, former President Bill Clinton, Sanders replied he was “trying to run an issue-oriented campaign.”
What led to the exchange Sanders had with moderator and MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell was an answer the senator gave during a Jan. 8 town hall meeting in Iowa, CNN reports.
While taking questions from the crowd, Sanders was told by one of his supporters that Clinton would not be a suitable president because she had stood by her husband even after his infidelities.
Sanders defended his opponent for the Democratic Party nomination also had strong words for her husband.
“Look, Hillary Clinton is not Bill Clinton,” Sanders responded. “But what Bill Clinton did was totally, totally, totally disgraceful and unacceptable. But I am running against Hillary Clinton, not Bill Clinton."
Mitchell referenced the town hall meeting during the Democratic debate, asking Sanders if he regretted using such a strong condemnation.
“That question annoys me,” Sanders replied, according to The Huffington Post.
Sanders then clarified that he had been asked a direct question by a supporter and that he had actually defended Clinton in his response. The Vermont senator added that his campaign has resisted making Clinton’s personal life a political topic.
"I cannot walk down the street -- Secretary Clinton knows this -- without being told how much I have to attack Secretary Clinton," Sanders said. "Want to get me on the front page of the paper? I make some vicious attack. I have avoided doing that. I am trying to run an issue-oriented campaign."
Sanders added that if he had not condemned the former president’s sexual misconduct, “there’s another front-page [headline].”
"Yes, his behavior was deplorable," Sanders concluded. "Have I said a word? No, I have not. I'm going to debate Secretary Clinton, [Maryland] Gov. [Martin] O'Malley on the issues facing the American people, not Bill Clinton's personal behavior."
Sanders had been perceived as an underdog by the Democratic establishment since he first announced his bid for presidency. He has since gained on Clinton in the polls, currently trailing her by just a few points in Iowa and leading her in New Hampshire, The New York Times reports.