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May 28, 2016

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Clinton dials back attacks on Sanders as caucuses near

CLINTON, Iowa — Hillary Clinton dialed back some of her biting attacks on Bernie Sanders on Saturday, refocusing on Republicans and her own experience in the Obama administration as she launched her closing argument to voters in Iowa. Her Democratic rival blamed "Wall Street money" for fueling the hits he's been taking from her.

Clinton also sought to flex her organizational strength with important Democratic groups, holding a raucous rally with labor leaders and union workers who have endorsed her candidacy. "You are going to be part of my administration," she vowed. "You're not going to be outside looking in."

Clinton and Sanders shadowed each other across eastern Iowa on Saturday, holding events in the same areas within hours of each other. Both candidates planned to spend most of the next week in Iowa as they seek to start off the primary voting with a win in the state's caucuses.

Sanders compared his rivalry with Clinton to her 2008 Iowa caucus battle with Barack Obama, who won Iowa on his way to the presidency despite a barrage of criticism over his proposals and experience. Clinton went on to finish third in the state.

"People of Iowa saw through those attacks then and they're going to see through those attacks again," Sanders said. "The people of Iowa know that a lot of those attacks are coming from a super PAC funded by Wall Street money and the people of Iowa are not going to accept that, I believe."

Sanders' rise has jolted Clinton, leading her to launch a flurry of criticism against the Vermont senator, whom she views as unelectable and a proponent of unrealistic policies. But the heated rhetoric has worried some Clinton supporters, who fear it could turn off undecided voters.

The former secretary of state took a softer tone Saturday, referring to Sanders as her "esteemed opponent." She put aside most of her direct criticism of Sanders, except on gun control as well as on health care, as she warned against the senator's call for a government-paid system.

Clinton did draw implicit contrasts with Sanders throughout her remarks, particularly on national security experience.

But unlike her appearance in Iowa last week, when she said Sanders "hasn't really thought it through" on foreign policy, she told detailed stories about her own experiences making big decisions in the Situation Room while serving as Obama's secretary of state.

"This is one of the biggest parts of the decision as you head toward Feb. 1 that I want you to keep in mind," Clinton said, telling voters that they're "not just picking a president, but a commander in chief."

Some of Clinton's high-profile Democratic supporters were also fanning across the state, including Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. She was also holding events with leaders of prominent women's rights and gay rights groups.

Clinton also won the endorsement Saturday of The Des Moines Register, a prominent Iowa newspaper that also backed her in 2008. "I'm very pleased," Clinton said after learning of the paper's endorsement.

Sanders, an independent who aligns with Democrats on Capitol Hill, has far less backing among the party establishment than Clinton. He's counting on strong support in Iowa in college towns and liberal strongholds, though he's making a late push in smaller cities and rural areas as well.

For Sanders, an upset victory in Iowa would put him in position to win both of the first two voting contests. He's consistently led in preference polls in New Hampshire, which borders his home state.

Only one Democrat has ever won the nomination without winning at least one of the first two states: Bill Clinton during his 1992 White House run.

Clinton said she would be eager to get her husband's advice, particularly on economic policy, if she becomes president. She also ran through some of the suggestions she's received for what the former president's title might be if they returned to the White House in 2017.

"First gentleman. First dude," she said as the crowd roared with laughter. "First mate — what do you think?"

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