Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton answer voters at Las Vegas town hall

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Sanders: Say No to Xenophobia, Racism and Bigotry

LAS VEGAS, Nevada — As the Democratic presidential candidates spar over who would best uphold President Obama's legacy, Sen. Bernie Sanders Thursday suggested Obama has faced racist opposition from Republicans while also refusing to disown his one-time call for a primary challenger to the president.

"The idea that there can be a primary where different ideas get floated and debated, I don't think that that is terrible," Sanders said in a wide-ranging town hall hosted by MSNBC less than 48 hours ahead of Nevada's first-in-the-west caucus Saturday.

See more from the Las Vegas town hall:

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Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at Las Vegas town hall
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Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton answer voters at Las Vegas town hall
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during in a televised town hall meeting with Senator Bernie Sanders at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas on February 18, 2016. The town hall discussion focused on issues affecting Nevada and the Latino Community was held just two days before Nevadas First in the West presidential caucus on Saturday, February 20, 2016. / AFP / JOHN GURZINSKI (Photo credit should read JOHN GURZINSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
MSNBC - ELECTION COVERAGE -- MSNBC and Telemundo Clinton-Sanders Town Hall -- Pictured: Fmr. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears during the 'MSNBC and Telemundo Clinton-Sanders Town Hall' on Thursday, February 18, 2016 at the KMA Event Center in Las Vegas -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/MSNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
MSNBC - ELECTION COVERAGE -- MSNBC and Telemundo Clinton-Sanders Town Hall -- Pictured: Chuck Todd appears during the 'MSNBC and Telemundo Clinton-Sanders Town Hall' on Thursday, February 18, 2016 at the KMA Event Center in Las Vegas -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/MSNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during in a televised town hall meeting with Hillary Clinton at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas on February 18, 2016. The town hall discussion focused on issues affecting Nevada and the Latino Community was held just two days before Nevadas First in the West presidential caucus on Saturday, February 20, 2016. / AFP / JOHN GURZINSKI (Photo credit should read JOHN GURZINSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during in a televised town hall meeting with Senator Bernie Sanders at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas on February 18, 2016. The town hall discussion focused on issues affecting Nevada and the Latino Community was held just two days before Nevadas First in the West presidential caucus on Saturday, February 20, 2016. / AFP / JOHN GURZINSKI (Photo credit should read JOHN GURZINSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
MSNBC - ELECTION COVERAGE -- MSNBC and Telemundo Clinton-Sanders Town Hall -- Pictured: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders appears during the 'MSNBC and Telemundo Clinton-Sanders Town Hall' on Thursday, February 18, 2016 at the KMA Event Center in Las Vegas -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/MSNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during in a televised town hall meeting with Hillary Clinton at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas on February 18, 2016. The town hall discussion focused on issues affecting Nevada and the Latino Community was held just two days before Nevadas First in the West presidential caucus on Saturday, February 20, 2016. / AFP / JOHN GURZINSKI (Photo credit should read JOHN GURZINSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
MSNBC - ELECTION COVERAGE -- MSNBC and Telemundo Clinton-Sanders Town Hall -- Pictured: Fmr. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears during the 'MSNBC and Telemundo Clinton-Sanders Town Hall' on Thursday, February 18, 2016 at the KMA Event Center in Las Vegas -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/MSNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during in a televised town hall meeting with Senator Bernie Sanders at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas on February 18, 2016. The town hall discussion focused on issues affecting Nevada and the Latino Community was held just two days before Nevadas First in the West presidential caucus on Saturday, February 20, 2016. / AFP / JOHN GURZINSKI (Photo credit should read JOHN GURZINSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
MSNBC - ELECTION COVERAGE -- MSNBC and Telemundo Clinton-Sanders Town Hall -- Pictured: Fmr. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears during the 'MSNBC and Telemundo Clinton-Sanders Town Hall' on Thursday, February 18, 2016 at the KMA Event Center in Las Vegas -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/MSNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
MSNBC - ELECTION COVERAGE -- MSNBC and Telemundo Clinton-Sanders Town Hall -- Pictured: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders appears during the 'MSNBC and Telemundo Clinton-Sanders Town Hall' on Thursday, February 18, 2016 at the KMA Event Center in Las Vegas -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/MSNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during in a televised town hall meeting with Hillary Clinton at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas on February 18, 2016. The town hall discussion focused on issues affecting Nevada and the Latino Community was held just two days before Nevadas First in the West presidential caucus on Saturday, February 20, 2016. / AFP / JOHN GURZINSKI (Photo credit should read JOHN GURZINSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during in a televised town hall meeting with Senator Bernie Sanders at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas on February 18, 2016. The town hall discussion focused on issues affecting Nevada and the Latino Community was held just two days before Nevadas First in the West presidential caucus on Saturday, February 20, 2016. / AFP / JOHN GURZINSKI (Photo credit should read JOHN GURZINSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
MSNBC - ELECTION COVERAGE -- MSNBC and Telemundo Clinton-Sanders Town Hall -- Pictured: José Díaz-Balart appears during the 'MSNBC and Telemundo Clinton-Sanders Town Hall' on Thursday, February 18, 2016 at the KMA Event Center in Las Vegas -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/MSNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
MSNBC - ELECTION COVERAGE -- MSNBC and Telemundo Clinton-Sanders Town Hall -- Pictured: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders appears during the 'MSNBC and Telemundo Clinton-Sanders Town Hall' on Thursday, February 18, 2016 at the KMA Event Center in Las Vegas -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/MSNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
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Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton committed to introducing an immigration reform bill in her first 100 days in office as president but declined to commit to releasing transcripts from her speeches to private groups like Goldman Sachs.

"I am happy to release anything I have whenever everybody else does the same," Clinton said in response to question from a Sanders supporter, "because everybody in this race, including Sen. Sanders, has given speeches to private groups. Everybody else does the same because every other candidate in this race has given speeches to private groups, including Sen. Sanders."

Related: Sanders Cuts Into Clinton's National Lead, New Poll Shows

With the candidates working hard to appeal to African-American voters, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has criticized Sanders for saying in an interview in the runup to Obama's 2012 reelection bid that a primary challenger would help push Obama to the left.

Moderators Chuck Todd and Jose Diaz-Balart played video of Sanders' 2011 comments and asked him to respond. Sanders dismissed the question as "a media issue," adding, "This is this is one thing I said on a radio show many, many years ago."

10 facts you should know about Bernie Sanders:

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10 things you don't know about Bernie Sanders
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Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton answer voters at Las Vegas town hall

1. He's a socialist, and he doesn't deny it. When he ran for office in 1990 he responded to an ad trying to link him to Fidel Castro by saying,  "I am a socialist and everyone knows that."
 

(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

2. He used to moonlight as a comedy actor, appearing in the 1999 film "My X-Girlfriends Wedding Reception."

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

3. He is the longest-serving Independent member of Congress ever.

 (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

4. He made headlines in in 2010 when he tried to block a deal that included a tax cut extension for the wealthy with a filibuster-like stand. The stunt trended on Twitter with the hashtag #filibernie and later crashed the Senate video server.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

5. He is not religious. While all past presidents have been openly religious and Christian, Sanders says he identifies as Jewish but doesn't practice. 

 (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

6. Despite being given an"F" rating by the NRA, Sanders has often voted in their favor. Once he voted to pass a bill that would prevent people from suing manufacturers, dealers and distributors when their products were misused.

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

7. He grew up in a working class family in Brooklyn, and his father was a Polish immigrant.

 (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

8. He released an album called 'We Shall Overcome' in which he reads speeches about peace and justice with a choir singing in the background. It's available on iTunes. 

(Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call/Getty Images)

9. He is a big believer in Scandinavian political thinking and has said that the U.S. should adopt some of their principles, including the idea that health care should be a right, and higher education should be free.

 (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

10. Barack Obama campaigned for him when he ran for Senate in 2006.
(photo credit: AP)
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Appearing after him, Clinton fired back at Sanders for criticizing Obama. He "wasn't really even a Democrat until he decided to run for president," she said to some boos from the crowd. "It's true!"

But throughout the forum, Sanders also defended President Obama. While responding to a question on anti-Islam bias, the senator suggested that the president's race helps explain the vitriolic opposition he has faced.

"No one asked me if I was a citizen or not, and my dad came from Poland," Sanders said, referring to the so-called "birther" movement that has questioned Obama's legitimacy as president. "Gee, what's the difference? Maybe the color of my skin."

It was one of several moments likely to stand out from the town hall, many elicited by questions from the audience.

Sanders called himself a "strong feminist" when asked if he considers himself a feminist. He went on to say that Gloria Steinem once "made me an honorary woman" while campaigning for him.

Not surprisingly given the large Latino population in Nevada, immigration was a major topic in the forum. Sanders promised to make reform a "top priority," but said, "I'm not a dictator here" when pressed on a time table. He noted the difficulty in getting a bill on the controversial topic through Congress.

Clinton, meanwhile, made several new commitments on immigration reform. In addition to promising to introduce immigration legislation in Congress during her first 100 days in office, Clinton said she would repeal the three- and 10-year bars against returning immigrants, while also pledging to provide college vouchers for recipients of Obama's DACA program.

Clinton also faced several audience questions about trust, including one from a young woman who said her generation wants a "rebel" and not a career politician.

Sanders also defended his self-described Democratic Socialism. "I'm not looking at Venezuela, I'm not looking at Cuba — I'm looking at countries like Denmark, Sweden," he said.

And he rejected the idea that his single-payer health care plan would lead to rationing of care, saying that the current system rations care by depriving millions of Americans of coverage.

"If you need a knee replacement, you might need to wait for that," Sanders acknowledged under a single-payer plan before promising that important issues would be addressed.

The race in Nevada has become tighter than expected, with the only major poll in recent months showing Sanders trailing Clinton by just a single percentage point.

Nevada may be Sanders' best chance to win a state with a large minority community, which would be critical for helping him win other states down the line and convince Democrats he can represent the party's diverse coalition.

Clinton pulled out a victory in Nevada in 2008 against Barack Obama but drew slightly fewer delegates from the state. Clinton also beat Obama among Latinos nationwide. Sanders had a late start to the race but arrived here with a head of steam after a landslide win in New Hampshire and narrower-than-expected loss in Iowa.

"I want to get this nomination as quickly as possible," Clinton said. But asked about the state of the race, she suggested she knew she was in this for the long haul.

"I've won one, he's won one, then we've got 48 to go," she said.

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