DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Bernie Sanders defended his call for raising Americans' taxes in exchange for lower heath care costs, as he opened a candidate forum Monday that served as a platform for Democratic presidential hopefuls to make a closing argument to voters one week before the Iowa caucuses.
"Yes, we will raise taxes," said Sanders, an admission rarely heard in presidential campaigns. "We may raise taxes, but we are going to eliminate private health insurance premiums for individuals and businesses."
Sanders would replace the nation's existing employer-based system of insurance with one in which the government becomes a "single payer," providing coverage to all. It would eliminate co-pays and deductibles, and Sanders argues, bring health care spending under control.
A self-described democratic socialist, Sanders cast his governing philosophy Monday as one reflecting that "the right for economic security should exist." But he sidestepped a question about whether his policies would mean an era of big government.
Sanders was the first of three candidates to address voters at the CNN town hall at Iowa's Drake University. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who has struggled to gain traction in the race, were to appear later in the event.
All three have been zig-zagging the state in recent days, trying to shore up support before the Feb. 1 caucus. While Clinton has led the field for months, she's being challenged anew in Iowa, as well as in New Hampshire, which votes second in the primary contest.
The latest Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll found Clinton with 42 percent, Sanders with 40 percent and O'Malley with just 4 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers. The poll, conducted between Jan. 7 and 10, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, suggesting it could be a toss-up between the former secretary of state and the Vermont senator.
Sanders has energized young voters in particular with his call for a "political revolution."
"We are touching a nerve with the American people who understand that establishment politics just aren't bold enough," Sanders said Monday.
Former Secretary of State Clinton is offering herself as a pragmatic option who can build on President Barack Obama's legacy and manage Washington gridlock.
"I believe I have the experience, the judgment and the vision to get us back moving, further than we got with President Obama," Clinton said Sunday during an event in Marion.
O'Malley, the former governor of Maryland, has struggled to win support in the race, despite aggressive campaigning in Iowa.
The event comes after Obama weighed in on the race in an interview with Politico's "Off Message" podcast, though he stopped short of endorsing. Obama praised Sanders for energizing liberals while saying that Clinton's perceived dominance had been both an advantage and a burden.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)