Iowa winner Pete Buttigieg comes under fire from Dem rivals for inexperience

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Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg felt most of the hits in Friday night’s Democratic primary debate after his shock Iowa success as other candidates came for the 38-year-old’s lack of experience and his lack of support from black and Latino voters. 

Current fifth-place candidate Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar came out strong in the seven-person debate, taking on Buttigieg to style herself as the only reasonable alternative to former Vice President Joe Biden and mocking the former mayor’s attempts to brand himself as the ‘cool newcomer’ by highlighting his lack of experience. 

Buttigieg and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, 78, took most of the fire during the eighth democratic primary debate after coming out on top in the controversial Iowa caucus. They are also both placed well ahead of the rest of the pack in polling ahead of New Hampshire’s primary next Tuesday.   

Senator Sanders came in for the most criticism for his self-proclaimed socialism as Biden, in his most aggressive appearance yet, claimed that President Donald Trump would use the ‘socialist’ label to cast off any Democratic contender in November.   

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

The ABC debate saw businessman Andrew Yang, Buttigieg, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Biden, Sanders, Klobuchar, and billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer go head-to-head as Buttiegieg and Sanders begin to pull away from the other candidates in the New Hampshire polling. 

It marked 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 Buttigieg a burst of momentum and putting former Vice President Joe Biden, 77, on notice that he may not be the party’s front runner for long.  

Biden, who came in fourth in Iowa, went straight for Sanders’ brand of progressivism, blunting stating that he’s not a Democratic Socialist like Bernie.

‘Bernie has labeled himself, not me, a democratic socialist. I think that´s the label that the president is going to lay on everyone running with Bernie if he is the nominee,’ Biden said. 

Debate moderator Geroge Stephanopoulos asked if any of the candidates on stage was concerned about running a candidate with a socialist label against Donald Trump. 

None initially raised their hands, although Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, 59, cautioned: ‘We are not going to be able to out divide the divider in chief’ and called for appealing to moderates and independents.

Klobuchar, who finished a distant fifth in Iowa, said Sanders would not attract the kind of centrist voters Democrats need to win.

‘Donald Trump´s worst nightmare is a candidate who will bring people in from the middle,’ Klobuchar added. 

‘I think we need someone to head up this ticket that actually brings people with her instead of shutting them out.’

Asked why Democrats shouldn’t be worried about Pres. Trump’s attacks on him with the “socialist” label, Bernie Sanders says, “Because Donald Trump lies all the time.” https://t.co/0GxKJz7e8Y #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/9v5v4U5M8b

Buttigieg delivered one of the most explicit attacks on the politics Sanders is pushing.

He called it ‘a politics that says it’s my way or the highway,’ adding: ‘We’ve got to bring as many people as we can into this process.’ 

Sanders hit back at the socialist criticism by claiming that ‘Donald Trump lies all the time’ and repeated his talking point that ‘I believe that the way we beat Trump is by having the largest voter turnout in the history of this country’.

He said he could appeal to working class voters who have given up on the political process.  

Biden and Klobuchar also questioned whether Buttigieg had the capacity to successfully face off with Trump, questioning whether he has the experience to lead the nation.

Buttigieg, who served two terms as mayor of South Bend, a city with a population of 100,000, said the Washington insider experience of some of his rivals was no longer what was needed, and it was time to ‘turn the page’ on the old Washington politics.

‘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,’ he said. 

Klobuchar hit back claiming that ‘it is easy to go after Washington, because that’s a popular thing to do. It is much harder … to lead and much harder to take those difficult positions’. 

Then she dug into the fresh-faced Buttigieg: ‘Because I think this going after every single thing that people do because it’s popular to say and makes you look like a cool newcomer, I just – I don’t think that’s what people want right now. We have a newcomer in the White House, and look where it got us. I think having some experience is a good thing.’

Piling on the criticism for Buttigieg was hedge funder and philanthropist Tom Steyer, 62, who also poked at Joe Biden Friday night.

‘That’s why I’m worried about Mayor Pete. You need to be able to go toe to toe with this guy [Trump] and take him down on the debate stage or we’re going to lose, he warned. ‘We got to win or we are in deep trouble and we keep not talking about the facts,’ he said.   

Biden leaned in further saying of Buttigieg: ‘He’s a mayor of a small city who has done some good things but has not demonstrated his ability … and we’ll soon find out.’ 

Buttigieg responded to the claims he lacks experience by arguing that the way to beat President Trump is with a different kind of politics.

‘Here’s how we’re going to win,’ he said. 

‘We’re going to put up somebody who’s not afraid to call out things like his disgraceful behavior at the national prayer breakfast,’ he said, and by nominating someone from a working class community that Trump says he is appealing to. 

Amy Klobuchar knocks idea of being a “cool newcomer”: “We have a newcomer in the White House, and look where it got us. I think having some experience is a good thing.” https://t.co/93QauZSK6e #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/OAjohZVqeT

Steyer also took a hit at Buttigieg over his diversity problems and his lack of support from black and Latino voters. 

‘Unless you can appeal to the diverse parts of the Democratic Party, including specifically the black community, including specifically Latinos, if you can´t do that, then we can´t beat Donald Trump in November,’ Steyer said.

Buttigieg came under fire for his record on race in South Bend. When asked about an increase in arrests of blacks on marijuana-related charges, he said as mayor he targeted cases ‘when there was gun violence and gang violence.’

Asked if Buttigieg’s answer was sufficient, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, 70, said: ‘No. You have to own up to the facts.’  

Massachusetts senator Warren didn’t command as much speaking time as her rivals or get into some of the biggest scraps, although she made one of the most direct attacks of the night when she went after people who ‘suck up to billionaires.’

She came in third in Iowa and is hoping to make a strong showing in New Hampshire with a boost from representing neighboring Massachusetts. 

Even amid the ideological and personal attacks, Buttigieg found a way to defend Biden, whose son Hunter’s business dealings featured prominently in the unsuccessful Democratic-led impeachment effort.

Trump and his GOP allies blasted Hunter Biden and called his conduct corrupt during the Trump trial, and Republicans in the Senate are gearing up investigations that could easily resurface the matter during the campaign. 

Asked if it was a danger to nominate a candidate who was under threat of investigation, Buttigieg stood by the elder statesman who kicked off the debate by going after him for inexperience.

‘No, and we’re not going to let them change the subject. This is not about Hunter Biden, or Vice President Biden, or any Biden. This is about an abuse of power by the president,’ Buttigieg said.

‘Look, the vice president and I, and all of us are competing, but we’ve got to draw a line here. And to be the kid of president – to be the kind of human being who would seek to turn someone against his own son, who would seek to weaponize a son against his own father, is an unbelievably dishonorable thing. That is just one more example that we as a party have to be completely united to do whatever it takes, at the end of the day, to make sure that this president does not get a second term,’ he added. 

Biden appeared somber while Buttigieg defended his son and Democratic rivals appeared united when the subject of Trump came up.

‘I thank my colleague for saying that. It is a diversion. But here’s the deal: Whomever the nominee is, the president is going to make up lies about,’ Biden said.

Then he pointed to Purple Heart Col. Alexander Vindman, who was marched out of the White House Friday after testifying against Trump in the House impeachment inquiry.

‘He should be pinning a medal on Vindman and not on Rush Limbaugh. And I think we should all stand and give Col. Vindman a show of how much we supported him,’ Biden said. Stand up and clap for Vindman!’ he implored the crowd. 

‘Get up there. Who we are. That’s who we are. We are not what Trump is.’

As Sanders faced further hits, Biden went after the Vermont senator on guns, after Bernie pointed to his state’s rural nature and said he voted with his constituents before public sentiment there changed.

‘While you were representing your constituency …. [people]were getting killed by the thousands in this same period,’ said Biden.

‘I introduced the first assault weapons ban,’ he said. ‘While I was pushing the Brady background checks, Bernie voted five times against them when he was in the House,’ he intoned. 

Biden earlier slammed at Sanders over the Vermont senator’s staple universal healthcare plan.

When asked what it will take to unify the country, Biden pointed to the signature health proposal of Sanders.

‘Well look, Bernie says that you have to bring people together and we have to have Medicare for All. But Bernie says – and he says he wrote the damn thing. But he’s unwilling to tell us what the damn thing is going to cost,’ Biden charged.

‘How much is it going to cost? Who’s going to pay for it. It would cost more than the entire – the entire federal budget we spend now. More than the entire budget. The idea middle class taxes aren’t going to go up is just crazy,’ the former vice president said, raising his voice.

Biden pointed to implementation of a single-payer healthcare model that was tested, and failed, in Vermont.

‘When they did it in Vermont, what happened? They doubled the state income tax, and then had a 14 per cent tax on withholding. And they finally did away with it,’ Biden said. ‘So how much is it going to cost? When you ask Bernie that – and I’ll ask him again tonight sometime – and if you ask Bernie that, he says, ‘Go figure. I don’t know. We’ll find out.’

Buttigieg on if he thinks there’s danger for Dems to nominate someone who is under the threat of investigation: “No. We’re not going to let them change the subject. This is not about Hunter Biden or Vice President Biden…This is about an abuse of power by the president.” pic.twitter.com/6KuNC7PpGL

Some of Biden’s comments created a humorous and confusing moment Friday night when he demanded the next president needs to inspire voters to elect more Democratic senators in certain states, including in Minnesota – the state Amy Klobuchar represents in the U.S. Senate.

‘We must win back the United States Senate this time out,’ Biden asserted. ‘And that’s why as you all look at it up here in New Hampshire and around the world – excuse me, around the country – you have to ask yourself: Who is most likely to get a senator elected in North Carolina, Georgia. Who can win Florida, Pennsylvania, Minnesota? Who can do that?–’

‘Oh – seriously?’ Klobcuhar interrupted Biden, who represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate from 1973 to 2009 before becoming Barack Obama’s No. 2. 

The Minnesota senator’s response was met with laughter from the audience and some smirks from those debating on-stage. 

At this point, the six remaining candidates on stage were raising their hands, both to respond and likely to indicate they felt they could successfully pull off what the former vice president was proposing.

‘You can, I agree,’ Biden admitted to Klobuchar.

‘But here’s the point, you’ve got to be able to. You’ve got to be able to not just win, you’ve got to bring along a United States Senate, or this becomes moot,’ he concluded in describing what he feels should be a litmus test for the Democratic nominee. 

Senator Klobuchar also earned laughs when she launched attacks at Trump. 

She said the president repeatedly sided with ‘tyrants.’

‘He blames his Federal Reserve chair that he appointed himself. He blames the King of Denmark. Who does that?’ she posed, earning an enthusiastic response from debate attendees. 

‘He blames the prime minister of Canada for, he claims, cutting him out of the Canadian version of Home Alone 2. Who does that?!’ she continued. 

Only one candidate on stage Friday night is a minority: Andrew Yang.

But race became a prominent issue when billionaire activist Tom Steyer demanded Biden disavow a top surrogate’s comments that Steyer says are ‘openly racist.’

Biden would not go that far, but did claim he felt South Carolina State Senator Dick Harpootlian was sorry for his comments.

Steyer’s hit at the state senator was in reference to comments Harpootlian made about a Federal Election Commission filing that showing Black Caucus Chairman Jerry Govan receiving ‘almost $50,000’ from Steyer’s campaign.

He also called Steyer ‘Mr. Money Bags.’

‘Is he pocketing the dough or redistributing the wealth?’ Harpootlian asked, in reference to Govan.

This was the comment accused of being racist.

Harpootlian made clear that he does not speak for the Biden campaign and that the comments were not associated with the former vice president. 

Biden also touted during his debate defense that he has ‘more support in South Carolina in the Black Caucus’ than any other candidate on stage.

‘Double what you have or anybody else has,’ he continued.  

One candidate came up during the debate that wasn’t even on the stage: Mike Bloomberg – and mention of his name flung the debaters into a clash over how they fund their campaigns.

‘Look, I don’t think anyone ought to be able to buy their way into a nomination or be President of the United States,’ Warren said of Bloomberg, a billionaire former mayor of New York City.

‘I don’t think any billionaire ought to be able to do it, and I don’t think people who sucks up to billionaires in order to fund their campaigns ought to do it,’ she continued, referencing her competitors who take money from these individuals.

Warren has sworn off big fundraisers – but in the past has taken money from big-dollar donors. 

‘Everyone on this stage except Amy and me is either a billionaire or is receiving help from PACs that can do unlimited spending,’ Warren said. ‘So if you really want to live what you say, then put your money where your mouth is, and say no to the PACs.’

‘Look, I think the way we build a democracy going forward is not billionaires reaching in their own pockets or people sucking up to billionaires. The way we build it going forward is we have a grassroots movement, funded from the grassroots up. That’s the way I’m running this campaign,’ she said. 

Sanders jumped in, agreeing with his fellow progressive senator, boasting his campaign is solely funded by grass roots contributors.

He also claimed Bloomberg only made it this far because of his billions – and he called the notion ‘nonsense.’ 

‘Unlike some of the folks up here I don’t have 40 billionaires, Pete, contributing to my campaign coming from the pharmaceutical industry, coming from Wall Street and all the big money interest,’ Sanders said, taking a hit at the Iowa caucus victor.

‘If we want to change American, you’re not going to do it by electing candidates who are going out to rich people’s homes begging for money,’ Sanders said.

But Buttigieg defended himself.

‘We are going into the fight of our lives,’ he said, citing how much money the Trump reelection campaign is bringing in. ‘We need to go into that fight with everything we’ve got.’   

Ahead of the debate, Sanders had a clear lead in New Hampshire polls 

The Emerson poll had Sanders far ahead of the pack with 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 in the New Hampshire poll at 11 per cent after finishing in the same position in Iowa.  

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 followed 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 followed at 14 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.  Klobuchar 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. 

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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