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Democratic Race Turns Negative As Sanders Questions Clinton's Experience

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Democratic race for president has gotten a lot less polite over the last 24 hours. At a rally last night, here's what Bernie Sanders had to say about Hillary Clinton.

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BERNIE SANDERS: I don't think that you are qualified if you get $15 million from Wall Street through your super PAC.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: I don't think you are qualified if you have voted for the disastrous war in Iraq.

(CHEERING)

SHAPIRO: NPR's Tamara Keith is covering the Democratic race and is here with us in the studio. Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey.

SHAPIRO: How do you explain this shift in tone?

KEITH: Well, you can trace it all back to an interview Sanders did with the editorial board of the New York Daily News. And as we discussed yesterday, the Clinton campaign has been gleefully sending around the transcript of that interview because on a number of questions, Sanders said - he basically didn't have an answer, or he didn't have a detailed plan to offer.

So that prompted Joe Scarborough of MSNBC to ask Hillary Clinton this.

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JOE SCARBOROUGH: Do you believe this morning that Bernie Sanders is qualified and ready to be president of the United States?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I think the interview raised a lot of really serious questions, and I look at it this way. The core of his campaign has been break up the banks. And it didn't seem in reading his answers that he understood exactly how that would work.

SHAPIRO: Tam, doesn't sound like she answered the question of whether Sanders is qualified.

KEITH: That would be correct. She neither answered it nor denied it nor - she basically dodged. Scarborough asked her the same question over and over. She didn't take the bait. But last night, Bernie Sanders stuck back at what he perceived as a slight.

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SANDERS: And she has been saying lately that she thinks that I am, quote, unquote, "not qualified to be president." Well, let me just saying in response to Secretary Clinton, I don't believe that she is qualified if she is...

KEITH: And then he went on to list these things like the Iraq War vote, her super PAC money, supporting trade deals. Clinton, of course, never did actually in those words say he's not qualified. But today, she did respond to all this, and she said she didn't know why Sanders would say such a think and then said that he's still a better pick than the Republicans.

SHAPIRO: Put this in the context of the race up until now in which Democrats have been saying over and over again, especially Bernie Sanders, that their campaign is so much more positive and issues-focused than the Republican campaign.

KEITH: Yes. Bernie Sanders, you'll remember, at the first Democratic debate, avoided talking about her emails. He deliberately didn't touch it. His advisers, for a very long time, have wanted him to go after her on the Wall Street speeches that she gave, and he resisted it for a very long time. But Bernie Sanders perceived a slight here. He felt like the campaign - the Clinton campaign was trying to undermine him. And he hit back, is the way he sees it. Also they're heading into New York, and New York has a primary. And he has a lot of ground to make up, and here it happened.

SHAPIRO: So is this a blip in the news cycle, or is this now the nature of the Democratic campaign?

KEITH: That's a very good question for which we will not know the answer until it continues. But I think we can safely say that we're not going to see these candidates sending out memes of each other's spouses or some of the dirtier things that happened on the Republican side.

But Bernie Sanders does feel that it is fair game to criticize Hillary Clinton on her ties to Wall Street and some of these other things. And Hillary Clinton feels it's fair to point out Bernie Sanders' positions on gun control and some things like that. So I think that they are getting a little more chippy.

The question is, you know, will this affect them down the line? Will these lines of attack be effective for either of them, and you know, come November, come the general election, will these lines of attack be used against them by whoever the Republican ends up being?

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Tamara Keith, who's covering the Democratic side of the race for us. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.