Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said Sunday that the increasingly negative tone of the 2016 Democratic primary comes from his desire to stop being "beaten up" by his opponent, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
"You know, I have become a little bit tired of being beaten up by the negativity of the Clinton campaign," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "And we're responding in kind."
He added that there are "real differences of opinion," citing the two candidates' views on the federal minimum wage, the war in Iraq and fracking as key examples.
In the lead-up to Tuesday's New York primary, Sanders has taken the fight to Clinton in new ways, including the dust-up earlier in April when he said at a Philadelphia rally that she is not "qualified" to be president. He walked that back in the following days, saying she is "of course" qualified to be president but that he questions her "judgment" on a handful of issues.
Sanders said the Clinton campaign has distorted his views on several issues, including taking some of his past comments about Planned Parenthood out of context.
"After we have won eight out of nine caucuses and primaries, I think they made it clear that what their goal was, and I think I quote appropriately here, "Disqualify, defeat and then reunite the party later on,'" he said. "They've gone after us in every single area, in a way that just misrepresents my views."
The Vermont senator said he has "a real shot" at winning in New York on Tuesday, but also worked to lower expectations by noting the barriers to having a high turnout among Democrats that day.
"Even here in New York state you have a voting system which makes it impossible for independents to participate in the Democratic primary, that makes it impossible for people to register on the day of election which many states do, which is going to result in a lower voter turnout than I would like to see," he said.
Asked to explain his juxtaposition of Clinton's high-dollar speaking fees from Wall Street companies and her support for a $12 per hour minimum wage, instead of the $15 per hour he supports, Sanders said Clinton's hefty speaking fees help keep her removed from ordinary working people.
"Look, if you can go before Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and end up after an hour's work, or 20 minutes' work, with a $225,000 check and that's your life--and then refuse to support the fight for $15, the need to have a $15-an-hour national min wage--well, I think you're living in a world far removed from where working people are," he said.
Given the recent focus on the candidates' support for the 1994 crime bill under President Clinton, Sanders said the law has undoubtedly contributed to the current criminal justice climate but that he voted for it because of other things contained in the bill.
"It's a big bill, and a lot of stuff in it," he said. "It had the Violence Against Women Act and when, during my tenure as mayor of Burlington, I worked very hard against domestic violence. It had the ban against assault weapons ... but there is no debate that that legislation has resulted in massive incarceration that we today have more people in jail than any other country, that we have a broken criminal justice system."
Sanders also spoke about his trip to the Vatican this weekend, where he met briefly with Pope Francis and spoke at a conference on social, economic and environmental issues.
"I learned that this is an extraordinary man whose vision is having an incredible impact on our world in terms of focusing on the needs of the poorest people in this planet," he said, adding that he was "very honored" to meet him.