January 19, 2016 12:38 AM
The U.S. presidential campaign is focused on the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses on February 1, and the candidates used the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday to hold rallies and campaign events.
Fresh off a Sunday night Democratic presidential candidate debate in Charleston, South Carolina, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley marked the holiday on the steps of the South Carolina statehouse — celebrated for the first time with no Confederate flag flying overhead.
The flag was removed last July from the statehouse, where it had flown for more than a half-century, after a mass shooting in Charleston in which the suspect was often shown photographed with the flag and said he hoped to incite a race war with the shooting.
«(King) was counting on all of us to keep going after he was gone, to be a part of what President (Barack) Obama calls the `Joshua Generation,’ carrying forward the holy work the heroes of the civil rights movement began,» said Clinton, who credits the civil rights leader with her choosing a life of public service.
Sanders, also has spoken of hearing King speak, joined a march, organized by the South Carolina NAACP Monday. Before the debate Sunday, he unveiled his «Medicare for all» proposal, which he dubbed a natural evolution of the Affordable Care Act.
Later Monday, in Toledo, Iowa, Clinton said her plans to improve health care access include requiring insurance companies to give members three free visits that would not count toward their annual deductible.
Sanders addressed a crowd of more than 5,000 in Birmingham, Alabama, later Monday. He spoke about raising the minimum wage, free college tuition and paid family medical leave.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump traveled to Lynchburg, Virginia, on Monday and spoke to 11,000 at Liberty University in an attempt to bolster his support among evangelical Christian voters.
The Lynchburg campus is popular among presidential hopefuls, and has hosted candidates from both parties.
The school’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., in introducing Trump, called him a «breath of fresh air.»
«We’re going to protect Christianity,» Trump told the audience, before proceeding to quote from what he introduced as «Two Corinthians, 3:17.« His phrasing prompted a chuckle from the students in the crowd, who noted the New Testament book is generally referred to as «Second Corinthians.»
Senator Ted Cruz, Trump’s main competition, is leading the real estate mogul in Iowa, where evangelical Christians are a huge voting bloc.
Cruz, who was campaigning in New Hampshire Monday, accused Trump of exhibiting inconsistent conservatism, noting the New York mogul has donated to Democratic campaigns in the past.
The two candidates, who have been going head-to-head in polling in many states, have been having a war of words since last week’s Republican presidential debate.
Trump has attacked Cruz on Twitter in recent days, calling the Texan a «nasty guy» and questioning his eligibility to run, given that Cruz was born in Canada.
Cruz said Monday Trump has become «rattled» and «dismayed» by his recent gains in several surveys.
‘Steady hand at the helm’
«The American people want a steady hand at the helm,» Cruz told The Associated Press in an interview on his campaign bus Monday. «They don’t want, I believe, a commander in chief who wakes up obsessed with the latest polls and driven to issue a frenzy of tweets.»
The Iowa caususes, and the nation’s first primary, in New Hampshire on February 9, are often are a good gauge of a candidate’s popularity and ability to continue in the nominating process.
South Carolina, an important early voting state, holds its primary February 20. Alabama holds its primary March 1.