PBS

Hillary is trying to turn this election into a referendum on the Obama era.

Clinton has dodged every chance to criticize the president in this debate. Asked what she could do for the black community that President Obama has not, she rejected the question outright. “We are seeing the dark side of the remaining systemic racism that we have to root out in our society,” she said. “I think what President Obama did was to exemplify the importance of this issue.”

Asked whether racial issues would improve under a Sanders administration, the Vermont senator responded: “Absolutely.”

The exchange illuminated a central divide between the candidates. Hillary has yoked herself to the president. She often talks about her experience in his cabinet and is now airing ads in South Carolina that feature Obama appointee Eric Holder giving her his endorsement. Meanwhile, Sanders has argued for sweeping aside many Obama-era reforms.  

Framing this race as a referendum on the Obama years may help Clinton among black voters, particularly in South Carolina. Still loyal to the president, they may not want to junk his reforms in a sweeping Sanders “revolution.”