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Break It Down: Democrats On Guns And Wall Street

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Democrats Bernie Sanders (from left), Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley debate in Las Vegas.

Democratic presidential hopefuls sparred over gun control policy and financial regulation during their first presidential debate.

Here's a closer look at what the candidates were debating in Las Vegas.

Gun Control

Hillary Clinton: "We have to look at the fact that we lose 90 people a day from gun violence. This has gone on too long, and it's time the entire country stood up against the NRA."

Clinton was criticizing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for his opposition to past gun control bills in Congress. Sanders insists he's not carrying water for the National Rifle Association and actually gets a D-minus on the gun lobby's legislative scorecard. Sanders argued that he supports some gun safety measures (a ban on assault-style weapons and requiring background checks for purchasers at gun shows). Moreover, Sanders argued that his past votes accurately represented his constituents' views.

Sanders: "I come from a rural state. And the views on gun control in rural states are different than in urban states, whether we like it or not."

Gun control is a polarizing issue. Nearly 3/4 of Democrats come down in support of gun control, while Republicans are much more likely to focus on gun rights. So Clinton's support for tighter rules on guns puts her on solid ground in the Democratic primary.

But it could be a different story in the general election. Historically, Democratic White House hopefuls — including Barack Obama — have not campaigned aggressively on gun control for fear of losing rural votes. The question is whether the party is now effectively writing off those areas, so Clinton has little to lose by deliberately courting pro-gun control voters.

Financial Regulation

Another issue where there is some daylight between the Democrats is bank regulation. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who has struggled to make much of an impression with primary voters so far, tried to capitalize on the issue with a proposal to break up big banks.

O'Malley: "We need to separate the casino, speculative, mega-bank gambling that we have to insure with our money from the commercial banking. Namely, reinstating Glass-Steagall."

O'Malley's proposal would restore a Depression-era firewall between commercial banking — where ordinary people put their savings accounts and maybe get a home loan — and potentially riskier investment banking.

Breaking up big banks is an article of faith with many progressive voters in the Democratic Party. They fear that many banks have become too big and too risky and will trigger another financial crisis. But none of the institutions that helped trigger the 2008 crisis — Lehman Brothers, AIG, Countrywide --combined investment and commercial banking.

Clinton disagreed with O'Malley on this point. Like Sanders' record on gun control, Clinton's position may be rooted in her parochial interests as a former senator from New York, where many big banks are headquartered. Clinton has proposed a tax on the biggest banks, which could encourage some downsizing. President Obama has been pushing a similar tax for a number of years now, and so far it hasn't gone anywhere.

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