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Sanders, O’Rourke face off in Iowa

BURLINGTON (AP) — They became notable presidential candidates in Iowa after narrow losses that nonetheless put them on the national political stage. They’re competing for some of the same young voters. And this weekend, they’ve been driving around this first-in-the-nation caucus state reintroducing themselves to voters as others in the 2020 Democratic field dispersed to New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

It’s been Bernie versus Beto all weekend in Iowa, with both hopefuls reintroducing themselves as the man with a plan to deny President Donald Trump a second term. Sanders swept back into the state as the early front runner after raising $18 million in 41 days during the first quarter of the year, the most of any candidate. O’Rourke raised $9.4 million in 18 days.

In dueling rallies, town halls and house parties, they spoke most of improving health care and affording college tuition.

Other hopefuls fanned out to political hot spots elsewhere, with much the same mission: Gauging early strength in a crowded field and raising enough money to secure a coveted spot in the presidential debates that begin in June.

Republican leaders have relished the jockeying among Democrats.

“I’d be happy with any of ‘em, to be honest,” the president said of the Democratic derby.

Here’s a roundup of the crowded Democratic campaign.

Beto in Des Moines

O’Rourke is calling for a range of educational changes to alleviate college debt, including providing free community college and allowing students to potentially eliminate or refinance their debt through public service.

“The cost of higher education, and not just tuition, is out of reach for so many of our fellow Americans,” O’Rourke told a crowd gathered for a campaign house party in Polk City, Iowa. He said the tens of thousands in debt that students carry when they graduate “is a weight that literally sinks them into the ground.”

To solve the problem, he offered a number of proposals to help students “stop digging the hole” and stop taking on debt when they go for a college degree: Making community college free, allowing students to earn an associate degree while they’re in high school so they’re “ready to earn a living wage on day one,” and increase access to union apprenticeships.

For those already saddled with student loan debt, O’Rourke said he’d like to “re-up the public service student debt forgiveness program” — a federal program that currently accepts only a fraction of applicants and is eliminated altogether in President Donald Trump’s latest budget proposal.

If students are willing to work in in-demand jobs at places like the Department of Veterans Affairs, or “willing to teach school or be in a support role in a community that needs your talent and human capital, I want to wipe clean your student loan debt. At a minimum I want to refinance what you have at a much lower rate.”

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