The Democrats‘ top presidential contenders clashed over health care, experience and electability in the early moments of a fiery debate Friday night as the 2020 primary season roared into a critical new phase.
Former Vice-President Joe Biden predicted he could “take a hit” in New Hampshire’s next-up primary election after a weak showing in Iowa. But he also raised questions about leading rival Bernie Sanders’ status as a democratic socialist and warned Democratic voters that U.S. President Donald Trump and his allies would use the socialism label against Sanders and the party in congressional elections as well as the presidential voting.
“Bernie’s labeled himself, not me, a democratic socialist,” Biden said before acknowledging his own political challenges. “I took a hit in Iowa and I’ll probably take a hit here.”
Sanders brushed off concerns about Trump’s attacks: “Donald Trump lies all the time,” he said.
Friday marked the eighth and perhaps most consequential debate in the Democratic Party’s yearlong quest for a presidential nominee. The prime-time affair came just four days after Iowa’s chaotic caucuses — and four days before New Hampshire’s primary — with several candidates suddenly facing pointed questions about their political survival.
The debate tested the strength of the Democrats’ new front-runners, Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, who emerged from Iowa on top but walked into New Hampshire with liabilities that their Democratic rivals fought to exploit. With the stakes rising by the day and money rapidly drying up, Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar were also fighting to prove to voters and donors alike that a legitimate path to the presidency remained.
Klobuchar was among the underdog candidates who took aim at Buttigieg, lashing out at the millennial mayor for saying in his stump speech that the impeachment proceedings were “exhausting” and that he’d rather watch cartoons.
“It is easy to go after Washington. It is much harder to lead and much harder to take those difficult positions,” she said.
She also accused Buttigieg of attacking Washington “because it’s popular to say and makes you look like a cool newcomer.”
If elected, Buttigieg would be the youngest president ever elected and he has never served in elected office beyond the mayor’s office in South Bend, Indiana. But he used experience as a weapon against Biden, a two-term vice-president who has spent most of his adult life in Washington.
“I’m interested in the style of the politics we need to put forward to actually finally turn the page,” Buttigieg said.
“Turn the page.”