08:02 - Source: CNN
Martin O'Malley on State of the Union: Full Interview

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Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley will debate Hillary Clinton on Tuesday

Sanders said he plans to 'contrast my consistency' with the Democratic front-runner

CNN —  

Hillary Clinton’s Democratic opponents offered a preview of Tuesday night’s presidential debate, when they used the Sunday news shows as a chance to cast her as a relative newcomer to progressive policy positions.

Both Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley are turning up the contrast between themselves and the party’s front-runner, who, despite having faced heavy scrutiny all summer for her email use as secretary of state, appears to have stabilized her dominance in national polls.

In a not-so-subtle jab at Clinton, Sanders highlighted his “consistency” Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying he’s been in sync with the party’s electorate on issues like trade and income inequality much longer than the former secretary of state.

“So people will have to contrast my consistency and my willingness to stand up to Wall Street and corporations, big corporations, with the secretary,” Sanders said.

And O’Malley played up his record on issues like gun control and immigration on CNN’s “State of the Union,” saying that “it’s about the doing, not the saying.”

2016 election candidates

“I’m going to lay out the vision … but also, 15 years of executive experience, which I alone will have on that stage, of actually accomplishing progressive things,” he said. “It’s not about the words, it’s about the actions.”

The candidates’ criticism of Clinton comes as the hours count down to the first Democratic primary debate. The party’s presidential field will share a stage in the CNN and Facebook-hosted event at 8:30 p.m. ET Tuesday in Las Vegas. Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee will also be on the stage.

After months of struggles as Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state has dragged on her campaign, she has regained her footing in recent weeks – in part thanks to a political gift from Republicans.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, in an interview on Fox News, credited the committee investigating the Benghazi incident with dragging down Clinton’s poll numbers – opening the door for her campaign to go on offense, accusing the GOP of a taxpayer-funded political crusade.

Exacerbating the comment’s effect, a conservative former employee of the committee also derided the panel as “partisan” in a CNN interview over the weekend, which forced the committee’s supporters into another round of defending their work.

There will be one elephant in the room Tuesday – or, in this case, outside it. Vice President Joe Biden has not yet announced whether he’ll mount a late bid for the Democratic nomination. He’s not participating in the first debate – though if he enters after it’s held, his presence could shake up the race.

Though Sanders has taken the lead in New Hampshire and is within striking distance in Iowa, Clinton’s lead nationally has stabilized. A new CBS News survey had her support among likely Democratic primary voters at 46% to Sanders’ 27%.

Clinton in recent weeks has been playing up differences with President Barack Obama’s administration – which, of course, includes Biden.

She has opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Keystone XL pipeline. She has argued for a no-fly zone in Syria. She has said the administration should allow more Syrian refugees into the United States, and should deport fewer undocumented immigrants.

But she also has a number of divides with her Democratic primary foes – particularly over issues like college debt and Wall Street reform. Her opponents have argued for the re-institution of the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era law that separated commercial and investment banks until it was repealed under President Bill Clinton.

On Sunday, Sanders specifically criticized Clinton for taking positions against President Barack Obama’s administration on two issues – construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and the Trans-Pacific Partnership – on which he and other liberals have long fought the White House.

RELATED: Five times Clinton broke from Obama

Clinton last month said she’d grown tired of waiting on the State Department to finish its review of the Keystone pipeline. And she said after the Obama administration’s trade negotiators finalized the 12-country Pacific Rim deal, which she’d hailed as the “gold standard” of trade agreements while serving as America’s top diplomat, has fallen short of her expectations.

Drawing an implicit contrast with Clinton, Sanders highlighted his positions from the outset of debates over those issues.

“From day one, I opposed the Keystone Pipeline because I believe that if you’re serious about climate change, you don’t encourage the excavation and transportation of very dirty oil. That was my view from day one,” he said.

He also pointed to his votes against free the North America Free Trade Agreement, normalized trade relations with China and more.

“I believe that our trade policies going way back when … I think they have been a disaster for the American worker,” he said.