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Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the two top-polling Democrats, were not so chummy in debate when it came to guns

By Sandra Sobieraj Westfall
Updated October 13, 2015 10:50 PM
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Credit: John Locher/AP

When it came to the email scandal that’s dragged her down for months, Hillary Clinton got some unexpected help in Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate – from the same Sen. Bernie Sanders nipping at her heels.

Asked about her controversial use of a private email server while Secretary of State, Clinton told debate moderator Anderson Cooper it wasn’t her best move and it’s time to move on.

“I’m still standing,” Clinton said at the debate, held at the Wynn Las Vegas. “I intend to keep talking about the issues that are important to the American people.”

With that, Sanders, whose standing in polls has benefited from public distrust of Clinton in the email controversy, jumped in: “Let me say something that may not be great politics, but I think the Secretary is right.”

“The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!”

Clinton beamed – “Thank you! Me, too. Me, too” – and laughed heartily as Sanders went on with a gravelly bellow.

“Enough of the emails! Let s talk about the real issues facing America.”

The audience of Democrats, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, leapt to their feet applauding.

On stage, Clinton stepped from behind her lectern to shake Sanders’ hand. “Thank you, Bernie,” she said quietly.

At the far end of the row of five candidates, former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee was not giving her the same pass. Chafee stood by his contention on the campaign trail that the questions over Clinton’s emails point to a serious problem of credibility.

Especially after America was found to have misrepresented Saddam Hussein’s weapons program before the Iraq War, “we have to repair American credibility,” Chafee said.

“Any time someone’s running to be our leader – and a world leader – credibility is an issue. We have repair work to be done. I think we need someone who has the best of ethical standards to be our next president. That’s how I feel.”

Cooper turned to Clinton and asked, “Secretary Clinton, do you want to respond?”

“No,” Clinton replied simply.

The Democrat front-runner had a similarly clipped response earlier in the prime-time debate, when Cooper asked her if Sanders, currently her chief rival for her party’s nomination, is “tough enough on guns.”

“No. Not at all,” she said, launching a vehement critique of his voting record in the Senate. “It’s time the entire country stood up against the NRA!”

She singled out Sanders’ vote to shield gun manufacturers from liability in mass shootings, noting that she, too, was in the Senate at the time – and voted the other way.

“It wasn’t that complicated to me. It was pretty straightforward to me. He was going to give immunity to the only industry in America – everybody else has to be accountable but not the gun manufacturers. And we need to stand up and say enough of that!”

Sanders seemed taken aback by the force of her criticism.

“What I can tell Senator Clinton – all the shouting in the world is not going to do what I would hope all of us want,” Sanders said. “And that is to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have those guns and end this horrible violence that we are seeing.”

With Sanders and Clinton center stage – literally and figuratively – the other candidates vied for attention (also literally and figuratively).

At one point, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, pleaded with Cooper, “Can I get into this discussion?”

“I’m standing over here for about 10 minutes, trying.”