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After months of restraint, Bill Clinton lets fly at Bernie Sanders

Milford, New Hampshire:  Bill Clinton has uncorked an extended attack on Senator Bernie Sanders, harshly criticising Sanders and his supporters for what he described as inaccurate and "sexist" attacks on Hillary Clinton.

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"When you're making a revolution you can't be too careful with the facts," Mr Clinton said on Sunday, deriding Senator Sanders' oft-mentioned call for a political revolution.

The former president, addressing a few hundred supporters at a junior high school here, portrayed his wife's opponent for the Democratic nomination as hypocritical, "hermetically sealed" and dishonest.

Bill Clinton: "A woman dogged by as many accusations of philandering as he was would never have won the White House."
Bill Clinton: "A woman dogged by as many accusations of philandering as he was would never have won the White House." Photo: AP

He even likened an incident last year, in which Sanders staff members obtained access to Clinton campaign voter data, to stealing a car with the keys in the ignition.

Mr Clinton discussed the race for nearly 50 minutes, and his comments took on a harder edge the longer he spoke. What began as a testimonial to Hillary Clinton's leadership and a statesmanlike lecture on her approach to issues evolved into an angrier recitation of grievances against Senator Sanders and his fervent supporters.

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"'Anybody that doesn't agree with me is a tool of the establishment,'" Bill Clinton said, mocking what he described as the central critique of Hillary Clinton by Senator Sanders.

Mr Clinton's comments represented an escalation in the language that he and Hillary Clinton's campaign have used to attack Senator Sanders, who has maintained a sizeable advantage in the polls here. Bill Clinton made headlines in 2008 for fiercely defending his wife and levelling tough attacks on Senator Barack Obama, but he has been largely restrained so far in this campaign.

In 1998 former US President Bill Clinton appointed Koplovitz to chair the bipartisan National Women's Business Council.
In 1998 former US President Bill Clinton appointed Koplovitz to chair the bipartisan National Women's Business Council. Photo: AP

His heated remarks here reflected the frustration the Clintons felt two days before the primary in a state that has rewarded them in the past but that appears ready to hand Senator Sanders a decisive victory. Mr Clinton seemed especially irritated that New Hampshire, after lifting his 1992 bid for the Democratic nomination and handing his wife a comeback win in 2008, would now abandon her.

Criticising Senator Sanders' hastily presented health care plan, which Mr Clinton claimed the Vermont senator had already disavowed, the former president asked: "Is it good for America? I don't think so. Is it good for New Hampshire? I don't think so".

Senator Bernie Sanders, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on Sunday.
Senator Bernie Sanders, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on Sunday.  Photo: Bloomberg

He continued: "The New Hampshire I knew would not have voted for me if I had done that".

But Mr Clinton's most pointed remarks may have been when he took aim at Sanders supporters who, he said, use misogynistic language in attacking Hillary Clinton. He told the story of a female "progressive" blogger who defended his wife online through a pseudonym because, he said, the vitriol from Senator Sanders' backers was so unrelenting.

Hillary Clinton: "Is a raised, emphatic voice heard as something more grating when it emanates from a woman?"
Hillary Clinton: "Is a raised, emphatic voice heard as something more grating when it emanates from a woman?" Photo: Bloomberg

"She and other people who have gone online to defend Hillary, to explain why they supported her, have been subject to vicious trolling and attacks that are literally too profane often, not to mention sexist, to repeat".  Mr Clinton, growing more demonstrative, added that liberal journalist Joan Walsh had faced what he called "unbelievable personal attacks" for writing positively about Hillary Clinton.

In a demonstration of how engrossed he is in this campaign, Mr Clinton recited the names of the regional newspapers that are backing his wife's campaign and, in a rarity, mentioned Senator Sanders by name.

"Bernie took what they said was good about him and put it in his own endorsements," said Mr Clinton, fuming that Senator Sanders used complimentary language from a Nashua Telegraph endorsement of Hillary Clinton in his own campaign appeals.

Then, reflecting the fury among Clinton campaign advisers over what they see as the kinds of behaviour Senator Sanders gets away with, Mr Clinton noted that the senator's campaign had used the image of an American Legion officer in New Hampshire without his permission. "If you point it out, it just shows how tied you are to the establishment," he said.

In a response, Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Senator Sanders, called it "disappointing that President Clinton has decided to launch these attacks" and said Sanders would continue to focus on his message against the rigged economy, campaign finance corruption and income inequality. "Obviously the race has changed in New Hampshire and elsewhere in recent days," Mr Devine said.

The appearance by Bill Clinton, absent the entourage and crowds that usually surround the former president, was striking and somewhat poignant, and it felt far apart from the frenzied final campaigning happening around the state on Sunday. The junior high school's small gym was not full, and only a handful of reporters showed up, at a time when campaign events are being flooded with dozens of national and international journalists.

But with Hillary Clinton in Flint, Michigan, and other Clinton staff members absorbed in the primary, Mr Clinton seemed almost on his own: He was introduced by a local mayor and Larry Lucchino, former chief executive of the Boston Red Sox.

Recalling his own, formative experience in this state, Mr Clinton sounded wistful in reminiscing about his duels with Paul Tsongas, the Massachusetts senator who beat him here.

"When I campaigned against Paul Tsongas we actually had substantive debates," he said with perhaps a selective memory given the intense attacks at the time over allegations of Mr Clinton's sexual misconduct and his avoidance of the draft.

Now, he complained, Hillary Clinton is suffering through attacks from a would-be purist who, he said, is in reality a veteran politician hardly unfamiliar with the ways of politics. Citing Senator Sanders' attendance at a lobbyist-filled Democratic Party fundraiser, Mr Clinton expressed astonishment. "I practically fell out of my chair when I saw it," he said.

Turning to a vivid metaphor, Mr Clinton suggested that Sanders staff members' obtaining Clinton campaign voter data amounted to grand theft. Senator Sanders apologised for the incident, but the former president dismissed that. He said that "in private they sent an email out" noting that the Democratic Party had left "the keys in the car, and all I did was drive off".

That line won laughs, which seemed to be what Mr Clinton was going for. "I want you to laugh," he told the crowd. But he did not seem to be in the mood for levity.

New York Times