Clinton, 68, who has struggled to regain momentum after losing badly to Sanders in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, sought to cast herself as a more sensible, pragmatic progressive. She also cited her experience as secretary of state, implying that she had a broader array of expertise than Sanders, who focuses largely on economic inequality.

The debate came as contest between the two moves to Nevada and South Carolina, states with large minority populations.

"I want to tackle those barriers that stand in the way of too many Americans right now," Clinton said in her opening statement.

During a television debate, Clinton repeatedly emphasised her ties to President Barack Obama who is extremely popular among minority voters.

Immigration reform was also a major topic of discussion. Both candidates supported creating a path to citizenship for the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US and they decried a recent uptick in deportations by the Obama administration.

Clinton accused 74-year-old Sanders of voting against the 2007 immigration reform bill that included a pathway to citizenship. Sanders defended his vote, arguing that civil rights and immigrant groups were also opposed.

Criticising the anti-immigrant positions of Republican front-runner Donald Trump, Sanders said immigrants should not be scapegoats for economic uncertainty.

Clinton accused the Vermont Senator of criticising Obama, who is also from their own Democratic party, in a language that is normally heard by Republican opponents.

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