MANCHESTER, N.H. — Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.) and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegScaled-back Pride Month poses challenges for fundraising, outreach Biden hopes to pick VP by Aug. 1 It’s as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process MORE came under fire from their Democratic rivals at Friday night’s debate, as the two front-runners appear headed for a photo finish in next week’s primary.
Buttigieg is surging in the polls in New Hampshire after greatly outperforming expectations in Iowa, where he effectively fought Sanders to a tie. The latest Granite State surveys find Sanders with only a narrow lead and Buttigieg coming on strong.
That dynamic was on full display at the Democratic debate at Saint Anselm College, as former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE and others took shots at Buttigieg’s experience and Sanders’s left-wing politics in an effort to slow the front-runners ahead of the first-in-the nation primary on Tuesday.
The core issue at Friday night’s debate was electability. Polls show that the ability to defeat Trump is the No. 1 issue on the minds of New Hampshire voters, and both Buttigieg and Sanders are facing questions about how they would fare one-on-one against the president.
Many mainstream Democrats believe that Sanders’s embrace of socialism will be ballot box poison for the party in November.
“That’s the label the president will put on him,” Biden warned.
The argument against Buttigieg has been that the 38-year-old mayor of a midsized Midwest town is too inexperienced to become commander-in-chief.
Businessman Tom SteyerTom SteyerBloomberg wages war on COVID-19, but will he abandon his war on coal? Overnight Energy: 600K clean energy jobs lost during pandemic, report finds | Democrats target diseases spread by wildlife | Energy Dept. to buy 1M barrels of oil Ocasio-Cortez, Schiff team up to boost youth voter turnout MORE, who was sounding the alarm all night about Trump’s electoral strength in November, warned that Buttigieg was not ready to take the debate stage against Trump.
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“You have to have experience to take him down, that’s why I’m worried about Mayor Pete,” Steyer said. “You have to go toe-to-toe with him or we’ll lose.”
Sanders was on message as usual, pointing to the surging youth turnout at the Iowa caucuses and arguing that his base of supporters are working class, young and energized — the kinds of people the Democratic Party must bring into the fold to compete with Trump.
“I believe that the way we beat Trump is by having the largest voter turnout in the history of this country,” Sanders said. “It’s appealing to working class people who have given up on the political process because they don’t believe anyone is hearing their pain.”
Buttigieg was ready for the attacks and went on the offensive, making the case that the best challenger to put up against Trump is someone who intimately understands working class voters in the American heartland.
He also made the case for generational change, saying that it’s time to “turn the page” on old Washington ways — a direct shot at Biden, whom he’s battling to be the party’s centrist standard bearer.
“I freely admit that if you’re looking for the person with the most years of Washington establishment experience under their belt, you’ve got your candidate, and of course it’s not me,” Buttigieg said. “We have to be ready to turn the page and change our politics before it’s too late. And I’m seeing everywhere I go, not just fellow Democrats, but a striking number of independents, and what I like to call future former Republicans ready to join in that historic American majority to turn the page.”
Buttigieg skillfully parried attacks against him for most of the night but he did not escape completely unscathed.
The ABC moderators challenged him on his record on race in South Bend, where he’s been accused of promoting policies that have been harmful to people of color.
Buttigieg has struggled to attract support from black people, even as he’s succeeded in the predominantly white states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
After Buttigieg defended his record on race, the moderator turned to Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.) and asked if his answer was sufficient.
“No,” Warren said, in one of the debate’s most striking moments.
Buttigieg also played offense, taking aim at Sanders, whom he described as unbending in his commitment to extreme policies.
The former South Bend mayor said that nominating a staunch ideologue would not draw new people to the ballot box, potentially paving the way for Trump’s reelection.
When asked if he was referring to Sanders, Buttigieg responded, “Yes.”
Sanders and Buttigieg were not pitted against one another often, although Sanders did follow up on his attacks casting Buttigieg as the favorite candidate for billionaires.
Still, the night was largely defined by its cordiality, especially considering the high stakes and crowded field of contenders.
Buttigieg defended Biden against GOP attacks on Hunter Biden. Sanders said it was time to move on from the 2016 primary and bitter feelings between himself and eventual Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE. Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Democrats demand Republican leaders examine election challenges after Georgia voting chaos Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (D-Minn.) talked about the times Sanders had bipartisan success in the Senate. Sanders and Biden put their arms around one another at one point, smiling into the crowd.
“Everybody up here, by the way, is united, no matter who wins this damn thing, we’re all going to stand together to defeat Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE,” Sanders said.