Iowa Follows Sanders and Clinton Into Final Debate Before New Hampshire

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 8.08.59 AMMAGGIE HABERMAN

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Good Thursday morning. The close race in Iowa has added fuel to the steadily growing fire between the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Tonight the candidates will debate for the final time before the New Hampshire primary and that fire is bound to burn bright.

Just as the Democratic presidential primary race has hit a newly contentious note, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders will take the stage at a debate that neither originally wanted.

The two agreed to the debate, proposed by MSNBC, after brinkmanship in which each camp pretended the other was holding up the prospect of another face-off before the New Hampshire vote.

Mrs. Clinton’s team long ago abandoned its steadfast interest in fewer debates; Mr. Sanders had never pushed for new ones aggressively, but his aides engaged in a game of chicken with her over the terms of this one. Ultimately, an agreement was reached.

But the debate, to be held at the University of New Hampshire, comes three days after Mrs. Clinton barely edged out Mr. Sanders in the Iowa caucuses, a result that seemed to catch her by surprise and that left Mr. Sanders seeming newly buoyant. Mr. Sanders has spent months saying he would go negative against Mrs. Clinton only if she did so first, and many political observers have treated the Vermont senator as something of a naïf on the national stage. In reality, Mr. Sanders is an effective political knife-fighter, and he has proved not just adept at wielding the blade against Mrs. Clinton, but comfortable with it.

Mrs. Clinton’s campaign has struggled throughout the race with how to define Mr. Sanders — or whether to try to do so at all. Tonight will be the first time the two will exchange words in person since Iowa, and it could set the tone for the Tuesday primary.