Ignoring her two Democratic rivals, Hillary Clinton told a South Carolina audience Friday night she would work to halt the spate of African-American deaths at the hands of police officers, expressed skepticism about the death penalty and relayed that she would be no more hawkish a commander-in-chief than President Barack Obama.
Clinton's performance during a Democratic presidential forum at Winthrop University broadcast on MSNBC continued her direct appeal to primary voters as she looks for an emphatic victory over Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.
While O'Malley and Sanders took opportunities to make contrasts with Clinton, the former secretary of state declined to return the volley.
Under tough questioning from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, Clinton denied being too close to Wall Street, signaling her support for congressional legislation that would restrict the revolving door between top industries and lawmaking.
"I don't think people should be leaving Congress or an administration and immediately going into industries that have a lot of business before the federal government," she said.
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Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign
Hillary Clinton talks past Sanders, O'Malley at MSNBC Democratic forum
BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 10: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton holds a campaign rally at City Garage April 10, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. Voters will head to polling places for Maryland's presidential primary April 26. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton laughs as she listens to Representative Steve Israel (D-NY) speak on a gun control panel in Port Washington, New York April 11, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 09: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton holds a Latino organizing event on April 9, 2016 while campaigning in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City. The New York Democratic primary is scheduled for April 19th. (Photo by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)
SPRINGFIELD, MA - FEBRUARY 29: Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a 'Get Out The Vote' rally at the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History on February 29, 2016 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Hillary Clinton is campaigning in Massachusetts and Virginia ahead of Super Tuesday. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters at the Old South Meeting Hall during a rally in Boston, Massachusetts on Monday February 29, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 01: Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greets patrons at Mapps Coffee on March 1, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Hillary Clinton is campaigning in Minnesota as Super Tuesday voting takes place in 12 states. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
MOUNT VERNON, IOWA - OCTOBER 7: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to voters during an outdoor town hall meeting at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa on Wednesday October 7, 2015. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
MUSCATINE, IOWA - OCTOBER 6: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to a voter before leaving a farm in Muscatine, Iowa on Tuesday October 6, 2015. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, NH - OCTOBER 05: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton holds a town hall meeting at the Manchester Community College on October 5, 2015 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Clinton spoke about the need for gun control on the wake of a mass shooting at another community college in Oregon. (Photo by Alfredo Sosa/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
DAVIE, FL - OCTOBER 02: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks about gun control during her campaign stop at the Broward College Ã Hugh Adams Central Campus on October 2, 2015 in Davie, Florida. Hillary Clinton continues to campaign for the nomination of the Democratic Party as their presidential candidate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 19: Hillary Clinton attends the Phoenix Awards Dinner at the 45th Annual Legislative Black Caucus Foundation Conference at Walter E. Washington Convention Center on September 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, NH - SEPTEMBER 19: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton claps on stage during the New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention at the Verizon Wireless Center on September 19, 2015 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Challenger for the democratic vote Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has been gaining ground on Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, ME - SEPTEMBER 18: Hillary Clinton brings her Democratic presidential campaign to Maine for the first time, speaking at King Middle School. Clinton is welcomed as she is introduced at the event. (Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA - SEPTEMBER 7: Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton takes time to meet supporters and take photos at the Annual Hawkeye Labor Council AFL-CIO Labor Day picnic on September 7, 2015 at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Clinton spent a busy Labor Day weekend in Iowa, meeting supporters throughout the state while trying to maintain a lead over Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination. (Photo by David Greedy/Getty Images)
US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton takes part in a discussion after speaking about the Iran nuclear deal at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, on September 9, 2015. Clinton expressed firm support for the nuclear accord with Iran, calling it flawed but still strong. Clinton added that the agreement must be strictly enforced and said that if elected president next year, she would not hesitate to use military force if Iran fails to live up to its word and tries to develop a bomb. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
PORTSMOUTH, NH - SEPTEMBER 5: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen take an off the schedule stop in the River Run Bookstore before shaking hands with onlookers on September 5, 2015 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. (Photos by Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
PORTSMOUTH, NH - SEPTEMBER 5: Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton receives an endorsement from U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) September 5, 2015 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Clinton attended a Women for Hillary event at Portsmouth High School. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
PORTSMOUTH, NH - SEPTEMBER 5: Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton walks downtown Portsmouth and takes pictures with people September 5, 2015 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Clinton attended a Women for Hillary event at Portsmouth High School earlier in the day and received an endorsement from U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 18: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton answers questions from journalists after speaking to north Las Vegas voters at a town hall meeting in Las Vegas, on Tuesday, August 18, 2015. The former Secretary was answering questions about emails sent and received a private server system, now in question, while she was the Secretary of State. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - August 15: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton greets fairgoers as she tours the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, August 15, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
CARROLL, IA - JULY 26: Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to guests gathered for a house party on July 26, 2015 in Carroll, Iowa. Although Clinton leads all other Democratic contenders, a recent poll had her trailing several of the Republican candidates in Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - MAY 20: Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives for a meeting with parents and child care workers at the Center for New Horizons on May 20, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Clinton arrived in Chicago after campaigning Monday and Tuesday in Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 05: Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (C) poses with students and faculty after speaking at Rancho High School on May 5, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Clinton said that any immigration reform would need to include a path to 'full and equal citizenship.' (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 23: Hillary Rodham Clinton (L) and actress Maggie Gyllenhaal attend the 2015 DVF Awards at United Nations on April 23, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Stewart/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 29: Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum at Columbia University April 29, 2015 in New York City. Clinton addressed the unrest in Baltimore, called for police body cameras and a reform to sentencing. (Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton announced her campaign for president on Sunday April, 12, 2015 with a video on YouTube.
(Screenshot from YouTube)
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She told Maddow she would not be disappointed if the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty, but asserted she wanted to keep it as a rare option to punish crimes of terrorism.
"There are some really heinous crimes that are, in my view, still arguably ones that should potentially have the death penalty," she said.
She spoke most passionately on the rash of violence against black Americans by figures of authority and appeared to be moved by a recent meeting she had with the family members of victims.
"The Walter Scott shooting. Why? It makes no sense," Clinton said, referring to the North Charleston, South Carolina, shooting by a police officer. "I still can't get over that Eric Garner died in New York. Did he deserve to die because of that? Absolutely not."
On foreign policy, when pressed about the perception of her as an interventionist abroad who is inclined to use force, Clinton demurred: "I think it's irresponsible to rule out force. I will not do that. But it should always be the last resort, not the first choice."
Clinton, Sanders and O'Malley each spoke with Maddow for about 30 minutes before a live audience of about 3,000 in Rock Hill, South Carolina. While no candidate made a glaring error and Sanders and O'Malley turned in solid showings, it was clear that Clinton was in control of the race.
Sanders, running second to Clinton, complained that she had "misstated" his gun control stance, but also stood by a vote to allow passengers to transport firearms on Amtrak.
"You can put unloaded guns into the baggage department of a plane," he explained. "You've got hunters who are going from Vermont to the Midwest. What I voted on for trains is the same that exists in airplanes."
He also mentioned a difference of emphasis with Clinton on how to most effectively eliminate big money in politics. Both Sanders and Clinton support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, but while Clinton has blessed a super PAC to support her White House bid, Sanders has not.
"I don't think it's good enough to talk the talk on campaign finance reform. You've got to walk the walk," he said.
Sanders' weakest answer came during questioning on what he would do to stop the march of the Islamic State group. He said Muslim countries would need to "roll up their sleeves and get troops on the ground," opposing any American force presence in the Middle East.
O'Malley was most eager to draw a contrast with Clinton. When Maddow mentioned that each candidate opposed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, the former governor interjected, "Yeah, but Secretary Clinton got there just last week. And I was against it a year ago."
He later followed with a direct distinction with Sanders about their Democratic Party bona fides.
"When President Obama was running for re-election, I was glad to step up and work very hard for him while Sen. Sanders was trying to find someone to primary him," he charged.
But neither Sanders nor O'Malley felt comfortable with launching a full-bore assault on Clinton, even as they face increasing pressure to change the trajectory of a race currently in her favor.
"Media drives me nuts," complained Sanders at one point. "I can't walk down a hallway in the nation's capital without people begging me to beat up on Hillary Clinton. 'Attack Hillary Clinton. Tell me why she's the worst person in the world.' And I resist it and I resist it and I resist it."
That's fine by Clinton. In fact, she acted almost if neither men were there.
There was just one question she declined to answer outright, albeit a hypothetical one.
Pressed by Maddow to pick a Republican presidential opponent whom she could stomach as a running mate in the event of a national crisis, Clinton refused.
"There are Republicans I could pick, just none of them," she said. "The fact is I am dodging the question."