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Clinton's comments are her first about Sanders' education plan

Sanders would not answer a question Saturday about whether the race for the Democratic nomination is entering into a new stage

(CNN) —  

Bernie Sanders pushed back Saturday against an assertion from Hillary Clinton that her education plan is “more comprehensive” than his, another sign of the tightening contest between the two leading Democratic presidential hopefuls.

“That is absolutely not true,” Sanders told CNN after speaking at the New Hampshire Democratic Party convention here. “My plan says that every kid in America … you are going to be able to make it into the middle class, you are going to be able to get a college education, regardless of the income of your family.”

At a press conference in Durham on Friday, Clinton was asked why young people should pick her college affordability plan over Sanders’ proposal.

“I think my plan is … more comprehensive because I am aiming at getting costs down, not just putting more money in the system so costs keep rising,” Clinton said, drawing a contrast between Sanders’ plan that would eliminate tuition at all four-year public colleges and universities.

“I have a very heavy emphasis on paying down debt and different ways for students to do exactly that,” Clinton added. “I think my plan is really aimed at addressing the issues that I hear young Americans talking to me about.”

Clinton’s comments are her first about Sanders’ education plan. She has never spoken Sanders’ name at a campaign event – nor that of any Democratic presidential opponent – even when she’s been asked about him directly.

Sanders, who described his plan as “revolutionary,” would not answer a question Saturday about whether the policy squabbles signal that the race for the Democratic nomination is entering into a new stage.

Polls show the Vermont senator has been steadily gaining ground on Clinton in critical early voting states and nationwide. A Monmouth University poll this week shows Sanders up by 7 points in New Hampshire, despite Clinton entering the race as a heavy favorite to win the nomination.

Clinton’s “New College Compact” promises that students would “never have to borrow to pay for tuition, books and fees to attend a 4-year public college in their state.” The plan requires, however, that students would have to work 10-hours a week to receive the benefits of the plan, something Clinton believes gets students to buy in.

Sanders’ plan, though similar, would do away with any tuition at public college and universities for in-state students, fitting with Sanders’ belief that college is a right and should be fully subsidized.

Sanders’ campaign issued a statement after Clinton’s plan was released. Although the unsigned statement commended the fact she put out a proposal, it said “Clinton plan doesn’t go far enough.”

CNN’s Eugene Scott contributed to this report.