RICHMOND, Virginia — Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has a new target for his barbs: Democratic contender Bernie Sanders.
Speaking in front of about 5,000 people at a rally at the Richmond International Raceway in Virginia Wednesday evening, Trump went after the independent senator from Vermont, who, like Trump, has defied political convention with his strong grassroots support and massive crowds.
The billionaire businessman said the self-described "democratic socialist" should instead be called a "socialist-slash-communist" and blamed him for pushing Hillary Rodham Clinton further to the left in her policy positions during Tuesday night's first Democratic debate.
"She's got to give everything away 'cause this maniac that was standing on her right is giving everything away, so she's following," he said, adding: "We have to be careful."
The appearance marked Trump's first campaign appearance in the state, which has an especially high bar for candidates to appear on the ballot, and his first since the debate between the Democratic contenders Tuesday evening.
Trump, who provided live commentary of the debate via Twitter, marveled at how different the gathering of five Democrats had been from the first two Republican showdowns, which were marked by frequent clashes.
"There was no attack!" he said of Clinton's treatment, describing the last Republican face-off as "like a reality television show."
Trump's hourlong speech was also interrupted at one point by a group of about a dozen rowdy protesters who began jumping up and down, screaming "Stop Trump!" They were quickly pushed to the back of the crowd by angry Trump supporters and escorted out of the building by Trump security officials and police officers.
Earlier on Wednesday, Trump's campaign released on an online ad also targeted Sanders, portraying the Vermont senator as too weak to lead. After a series of scary-looking images including Islamic State militants, an announcer declares, "The world is a dangerous place. We need a tough, strong leader."
It then cuts to video of Sanders being interrupted by Black Lives Matter protesters at an event, accompanies by circus music, as the announcer says, "And it's not this guy."
While the two stand at very different sides of the ideological spectrum, their positions, including denouncing certain free trade deals and railing against the influence of money in politics, sometimes overlap.