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Clinton finds mojo in attacking Fiorina’s paid leave position; defending Planned Parenthood

·Political correspondent
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“I’m sick of it!” Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton passionately declared near the final minutes of Tuesday night’s debate, calling out Republicans on what she deemed as their “big government” hypocrisy when it comes to women’s health care.

It was perhaps the defining moment of the first Democratic debate for Clinton, who for two minutes shed her usual cautious talking points and level cadence and instead decided to get mad.

CNN moderator Dana Bash asked Clinton what she thought of GOP candidate Carly Fiorina — the only other woman in the combined presidential field — claiming that small businesses would be hurt by federal policies encouraging more generous paid family leave.

“This is typical Republican scare tactics. We can design a system … that does not put the burden on small business,” Clinton began, pointing to the success of Fiorina’s home state of California’s laws on the issue.

Then Clinton took a turn toward the personal, and not in the way that seemed forced earlier in the debate, when she would shoehorn references to her new grandmother status or her gender into responses where those reminders were less than necessary.

Slideshow: First Democratic debate >>>

“I remember as a young mother having a baby wake up who was sick, and I’m supposed to be in court because I was practicing law. I know what it is like. And I think we need to recognize the incredible challenges that so many parents [have], particularly working moms,” Clinton said. “We need to get a consensus through this campaign, which is why I’m talking about it everywhere I go and we need to join the rest of the advanced world in having it.”

Had her response ended there, it might have still been one of her strongest moments of a two-and-a-half-hour long slog of a debate.

But it was her conclusion on this issue that lent itself to a more coherent narrative for her overall argument Tuesday night, a crescendo of attacking a Republican Party that has for decades made a ritual out of attacking her, and that has lambasted the Obama administration to which she is so closely tied for espousing too much “big government.”

“When people say that it’s always the Republicans or their sympathizers who say you can’t have paid leave, you can’t provide health care — they don’t mind having government interfere with a woman’s right to choose or to try to take down Planned Parenthood,” Clinton said to mounting applause. “They’re fine with big government when it comes to that. I’m sick of it!”

“We should not be paralyzed by the Republicans and their constant refrain of ‘big government this, big government that’ except for what they want to impose on the American people,” Clinton said.

Congressional Republicans are currently investigating Planned Parenthood and have vowed to eliminate the group’s federal funds in upcoming budget fights.

Meanwhile, Clinton has struggled to secure support from female voters in her historic bid to become the first woman U.S. president. Though she emphasized multiple times the groundbreaking nature of her potential candidacy, her discussion of Planned Parenthood and women’s health issues underscored just how important rallying female voters could be in building back momentum that has fizzled over the summer as opponent Bernie Sanders gained traction.

Sanders has been out front on the parental leave issue and forced the Democratic field’s hand on embracing it as a policy touchstone, but Clinton’s embrace of it seems to be working to her advantage.

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