Clinton and Sanders set for showdown Sunday night in Democratic debate

Click to play video: 'Clinton, Sanders set to square off in final debate'
Clinton, Sanders set to square off in final debate
WATCH ABOVE: Tightening polls and rising tensions between White House rivals Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders could fuel a fiery Democratic debate on Sunday. Aarti Pole takes a look at where both candidates stand and what we can expect tonight – Jan 17, 2016

Just a few weeks away from the Iowa caucuses, Democratic presidential candidates will go head to head during tonight’s debate.  New numbers are showing front-runner Hillary Clinton may not have that title for much longer, as her rival Bernie Sanders continues to gain ground.

Both candidates are bracing for a showdown in South Carolina tonight for the Democratic debate as they fight for the top spot.

And what was a more friendly public relationship – has turned tense.

Last week on the “Today Show” Clinton launched an attack.

“Senator Sanders has been a pretty reliable vote for the gun lobby, and I have been standing against them for a long time,” Clinton said.

On MSNBC Senator Bernie Sanders fired back.

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“To say that I’m kind of a supporter of the NRA is really a mean-spirited and unfair and inaccurate statement,” he said.

WATCH: Hillary Clinton focuses on Bernie Sanders during rally in Iowa
Click to play video: 'Hillary Clinton focuses on Bernie Sanders during rally in Iowa'
Hillary Clinton focuses on Bernie Sanders during rally in Iowa

Guns will be a hot topic at tonight’s debate, set to take place near the church where nine parishioners were gunned down last June.  It has been a consistent focus on Clinton’s attack on the Vermont senator.  She says she was pleased Sanders “flip-flopped” on his support for a bill granting gun manufacturers legal immunity.

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The Hillary Clinton campaign has perhaps found itself in an unexpected position. A dead heat with Bernie Sanders in Iowa, ahead of the state’s critical caucuses.

A recent Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics Poll of Iowa caucus goers indicates there’s just 2% separating the two in support, with Sanders sitting at 40 per cent and Clinton at 42 per cent.

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National numbers released Sunday from an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll show Clinton has a 25 point lead with Democratic Primary voters with 59 per cent support, Sanders sits at 34 per cent and candidate Martin O’Malley, also on the debate stage tonight, has 2 per cent support.

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The same poll shows 77 per cent would also support Clinton as the Democratic nominee. However, the front-runner refuses to rely on the numbers. On the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Clinton said “This is not a job they give away. You really have to work hard for it. And it is the hardest job in the world. So I get up every day and go right at it.”

She’s enlisted the help of her husband, as the gap between her and Sanders in Iowa polls tighten. Bill Clinton hit the campaign trail for Hillary in Iowa earlier this month. Clinton’s daughter Chelsea is also rallying support, and taking on her mother’s rival.

“I never thought we would be arguing about the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, in the Democratic Primary. Senator Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare,” declared Clinton’s daughter at an event in New Hampshire.

On Sunday talk shows, Sanders responded saying that Chelsea made an “unfortunate statement.”

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WATCH: Bernie Sanders sends message to Wall Street by quoting 1980s film ‘Wall Street’
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Bernie Sanders sends message to Wall Street by quoting 1980s film ‘Wall Street’

Health care is also sure to be a hot topic during the debate. Sanders is lobbying national single-payer health insurance system, an expansion of the Medicare program. Clinton on the other hand, is looking to keep Obamacare alive, but with tweaks including cost-cutting measures.

“I think the reason the Clinton campaign is getting defensive is they see we have the momentum,” said Sanders on Meet the Press. “Tonight we’re going to be discussing a lot of issues” he said. “The main issue for me, why the rich get richer and almost everybody else gets poorer.”

But Sanders is lobbing attacks of his own too.

“Secretary Clinton voted for the war in Iraq,” he shot at a room full of his supporters. And a new campaign ad launched last week targets Clinton’s “vision” for regulating Wall Street, saying his opponent’s vision means she can “take millions from big banks and then tell him what to do.”

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READ MORE: US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders vowing to break up banks

“I don’t think Hillary Clinton wanted to get into fights with Bernie Sanders,” said Wall Street Journal Washington Bureau Chief, Gerald Seibe appearing on Sunday’s Face the Nation. “She wants that energized base that he represents. To be with her in a few months when she presumably gets the nomination but now she has no choice.”

The fear for Clinton is that support for Sanders in Iowa could result in a déjà vu scenario.

She suffered a stunning loss in that critical contest in 2008 against Barack Obama, derailing her campaign.

The expectation for this debate, as the last opportunity for Sanders and Clinton to go toe-to-toe before the first national contest, is a much more aggressive fight to win democratic support.

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