Democrats hit the debate stage for the first time since Iowa debacle

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Seven 2020 Democratic hopefuls will take the debate stage Friday night with just four days to go before New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary. 

The debate, which will kick off at 8 p.m. EST on the Manchester campus of St. Anselm College, will be moderated by a team from ABC News – George Stephanopoulos, David Muir and Linsey Davis – sitting alongside WMUR’s Monica Hernandez and Adam Sexton. 

It will mark the eighth time Democratic candidates have faced off onstage – but the first time after some votes have been counted, with the Iowa caucuses cementing the ascent of Sen. Bernie Sanders, giving former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg a burst of momentum and putting former Vice President Joe Biden on notice that he may not be the party’s frontrunner for long. 

Four years ago, the New Hampshire debate on the Republican side snuffed out the rise of Sen. Marco Rubio. 

Rubio came in an impressive third in Iowa, after conservative Sen. Ted Cruz, a natural fit for GOP voters in the Hawkeye State, and Donald Trump, who had been leading national polls for almost the entire cycle.  

But Rubio stumbled that night thanks to broadsides coming from then New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who mocked the Florida senator for using a canned response three times, saying he was only capable of delivering a ’25-second speech.’ 

Like with the Republicans in 2016, the Iowa results – once they were finally almost tallied – shuffled the deck in interesting ways.  

The most surprising result was Biden’s fourth place finish. 

The former vice president has long positioned himself as his party’s best chance to beat Trump, but with his sluggish finish, he suddenly looked vulnerable to being beat in the primary by two left-wing rivals – Sanders and Warren – and a 38-year-old mayor.  

After admitting he knew that he had underperformed – telling a crowd that he took a ‘gut punch’ in Iowa, he tried to right the ship by hitting both Sanders and Buttigieg harder. 

He said Sanders’ label of being a democratic socialist would not only hurt the Vermont senator should he be the nominee, but would trickle down to every Democrat on the ballot in 2020 as well. 

‘Donald Trump is desparate to pin the socialist label on our party,’ Biden pointed out.

He then went after Buttigieg for his youth and inexperience. 

‘I do believe it’s a risk – to be just straight up with you – for this party to nominate someone who’s never held office higher than mayor of a town of 100,000 people in Indiana,’ Biden said at a campaign event Wednesday in Somersworth, New Hampshire. 

Biden also captivated an audience during his hour at a CNN town hall Wednesday night when he devoted 10 minutes to talking about how he overcame his stutter. 

He then left the state and headed back to Delaware for debate prep, leaving his wife to do Biden campaign events on Thursday while his competitors continued to stump through the state.  

In the early minutes of Friday, two new New Hampshire polls showed Biden also in fourth place in the Granite State. 

The Emerson poll had Sanders far ahead of the pack.   

The Vermont senator had 32 per cent, followed by Buttigieg with 23. Warren took the same position she did in Iowa – third – with 13 per cent support. Biden slipped into fourth at 11 per cent. 

The Boston Globe-Suffolk University survey released Friday showed Sanders and Buttigieg neck-and-neck, with 24 per cent support and 23 per cent support respectively. Warren again follwed with 13 per cent support. And Biden, again, came in fourth with 11 per cent – the same per cent of Democrats who said they remained undecided in the primary, which happens Tuesday. 

In both new polls, Sen. Amy Klobuchar came in fifth, the place she took in Iowa as well. 

Later Friday an NBC New/Marist poll showed a similar lay of the land. 

Sanders was in front with 25 per cent, with Buttigieg trailing within the poll’s 4.7 per cent margin of error at 21 per cent. Warren and Biden followd at 14 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.  Klubuchar was at 8 per cent. 

On the debate stage Friday night, these five top candidates will be joined by billionaire Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang, who are both polling in the single digits. 

The New Hampshire debate marks Yang’s return to the debate stage as he didn’t meet the required thresholds, mandated by the Democratic National Committee, to make the debate stage in January in Des Moines, Iowa. 

On Friday morning, Sanders previewed some of the attacks to come when he cast Buttigieg as beholden to billionaires at an event in Manchester Friday morning.

‘How do we feel when we have candidates in the Democratic Party right now – and I’m reading some headlines from newspapers about Pete Buttigieg. ‘Pete Buttigieg has most exclusive billionaire donors of any Democrat’ that was from Forbes,’ the candidate recited, using news reports tying the former governor to some of his wealthy backers.

‘The Hill: ‘Pete Buttigieg tops billionaire donor list.’ Fortunate: ‘Pete Buttigieg takes lead as big business candidate in 2020 field.’ Washington Post: ‘Pete Butigieg lures even closer look from Wall Street Donors following strong Iowa caucus performance.’ Forbes Magazine: ‘Here are the billionaires backing Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign,’ the candidate continued.

‘I like Pete Buttigieg – nice guy. But we are in a moment where billionaires not only control our economy, but our political life,’ Sanders said. 

The Democratic candidates will debate two more times this month. 

They’ll take the stage in Las Vegas on February 19 in the run-up to the Nevada caucuses.   

Then those who qualify will head to Charleston, South Carolina for a debate on February 25 in advance of South Carolina’s primary.   

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