Wednesday February 26th, 2020 4:58AM

Front-runners Buttigieg and Sanders beat back debate attacks

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Democratic presidential front-runners Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg beat back a barrage of attacks during a debate as rivals raised persistent questions about their ideology and experience, hoping to sow doubts about their ability to defeat President Donald Trump.

Reeling from a weak finish in this week's Iowa caucuses, former Vice President Joe Biden was a chief aggressor throughout Friday night. He questioned Sanders' status as a democratic socialist and said Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, doesn't have the background to lead in a complicated world. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who is struggling to break into the top tier, voiced similar criticisms.

But Sanders and Buttigieg, who are essentially tied in Iowa, largely brushed off the broadsides.

“Donald Trump lies all the time," Sanders said in response to suggestions that Trump would use his self-described identity as a democratic socialist to brand him — and all Democrats — as radical.

Buttigieg sought to turn skepticism of his resume into a positive, portraying himself as a fresh face from outside Washington with experience in dealing with real-life problems and ready to lead a weary nation in a new direction.

“I'm interested in the style of the politics we need to put forward to actually finally turn the page," Buttigieg said. He added a jab at Biden: “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.”

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 facing pointed questions about their political survival. While several candidates had strong moments, it was unclear the event would change the trajectory of the campaign.

Biden was especially explicit about the state of his candidacy during the opening moments, predicting he would “take a hit” in New Hampshire next week before the contest moves into more diverse states where he hopes to perform better.

He faced criticism on stage as someone too steeped in the ways of Washington to represent the change many Democratic voters say they are seeking. He responded by once again aligning himself with former President Barack Obama.

“The politics of the past I think were not all that bad,” Biden said. “I don’t know what about the past about Barack Obama and Joe Biden was so bad.”

But Biden had to defend his long record as the candidates sparred over the decision nearly two decades ago to send U.S. troops to Iraq.

Biden acknowledged anew that his vote in favor of the war authorization as a senator was a mistake, while Sanders said his Senate vote against deploying troops was proof of his judgment on national security issues. Buttigieg, who was in college at the time and later served in Afghanistan, said he would have opposed the war, too.

While the debate was heated at times, there were moments of unity with candidates aware that Democratic primary voters have little desire to see an all-out intraparty brawl. When a moderator asked Klobuchar to respond to Hillary Clinton's comments that no one likes Sanders, Biden walked over and gave him a hug. Klobuchar, meanwhile, joked that Sanders is "just fine" and noted times when they had worked together on policy.

A somber Biden was appreciative when Buttigieg defended him and his son, Hunter Biden, against attacks from Trump in the impeachment inquiry.

And while Biden challenged Sanders' embrace of a version of socialism, most of his rivals seemed willing to overlook that political identity. When the moderator asked whether any of the candidates would have a problem with a democratic socialist as their party's presidential nominee, only Klobuchar raised her hand.

Warren avoided any direct criticism of her rivals and repeatedly pivoted to her core anti-corruption message. As Biden, Sanders and Klobuchar fought about the best way forward on health care, Warren did not engage, instead speaking broadly about the need to lower prescription drug costs.

Billionaire activist Tom Steyer and New York entrepreneur Andrew Yang, meanwhile, were fighting to prove they belong in the conversation.

Traditionally, the knives come out during this phase in the presidential primary process.

It was the pre-New Hampshire debate four years ago on the Republican side when then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie devastated Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's presidential ambitions with a well-timed take-down. Rubio never recovered, making it easier for Donald Trump to emerge as his party's presidential nominee.

The stakes were particularly high for Biden, who has played front-runner in virtually every one of the previous seven debates but left Iowa in a distant fourth place. While reporting problems have blunted the impact of the Iowa contest, Biden's weakness rattled supporters who encouraged him to take an aggressive tack Friday night.

Klobuchar made a passionate pitch to moderate-minded voters unhappy with Biden and Buttigieg.

“I’m not a political newcomer with no record, but I have a record of fighting for people,” she said. “I know you and I’ll fight for you.”

The seven-person field highlighted the evolution of the Democrats' 2020 nomination fight, which began with more than two dozen candidates and has been effectively whittled down to a handful of top-tier contenders.

There are clear dividing lines based on ideology, age and gender. But just one of the candidates on stage, Yang, was an ethnic minority.

Campaigning in one of the whitest states in the nation, Steyer repeatedly highlighted his support for reparations for African-Americans to make up for the impacts of slavery. His steady focus on race Friday was a reminder that he's invested heavily in South Carolina, where black voters are expected to play a deciding role and are central to Biden's strategy for success in later states.

Mike Bloomberg was not onstage Friday night, but the New York billionaire was referenced repeatedly as the candidates took turns bashing the the rich.

The former New York City mayor is bypassing New Hampshire, among the four states that vote this month, in favor of the delegate-rich states that hold primary contests in March and beyond. While no one has ever won the nomination with such a strategy, Bloomberg has caught the attention of establishment-minded Democrats concerned about Biden’s viability and Buttigieg’s thin resume.

Bloomberg is also poised to spend $1 billion on his presidential ambitions.

“I don't think anyone ought to be able to buy their way into the nomination or be president of the United States," Warren said in one of her few aggressive moments. “I don’t think any billionaire ought to be able to do it and I don't think people who suck up to billionaires in order to fund their campaigns ought to do it.”


Associated Press writers Will Weissert in Manchester, New Hampshire, and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.


Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “Ground Game.”

  • Associated Categories: Local/State News, Politics, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Elections, General Election News, General Presidential Election News, AP Elections - Political Conventions, AP Elections - Campaigns
© Copyright 2020
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Anger and virus cases grow in China with 722 total deaths
The number of confirmed cases of the new virus has risen again in China while fatalities increased to 722, as the ruling Communist Party faces anger and recriminations from the public over the death of a doctor who was threatened by police after trying to sound the alarm about the disease over a month ago
11:08PM ( 5 minutes ago )
Front-runners Buttigieg and Sanders beat back debate attacks
With urgency rising in their nomination fight, Democratic presidential front-runners Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg  beat back a barrage of attacks during a Friday night debate in New Hampshire
11:00PM ( 14 minutes ago )
Raptors pull away from Pacers 115-106 for 13th straight win
The Toronto Raptors extended their franchise-record winning streak to 13 games behind 22 points from Serge Ibaka and 20 from Fred VanVleet
10:56PM ( 18 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Haitian president lays out terms for deal with opposition
Haitian President Jovenel Moise says he is optimistic that talks that began last week with a coalition of political opponents will succeed in forging a power-sharing deal to end months of deadlock that have left the country without a functioning government
9:45PM ( 1 hour ago )
Rescues by chopper, front loader as flood hits northwest US
Residents in northeastern Oregon were plucked from rapidly rising floodwaters by helicopter or rode to safety in the bucket of a front-end loader as relentless rain and melting snow pushed multiple rivers high above flood stage
9:35PM ( 1 hour ago )
Judge strikes blow to US immigration enforcement tactics
A federal judge has prohibited U.S. immigration authorities from relying on databases deemed faulty to ask law enforcement agencies to hold people in custody
9:30PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Tougher criticism as Democrats debate in New Hampshire
The Democratic Party's seven strongest presidential contenders are plunging into what could be the fiercest debate of the 2020 primary season
8:04PM ( 3 hours ago )
Probe: Bryant helicopter was 100 feet from clear skies
Federal investigators say wreckage from the helicopter that crashed last month, killing Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others did not show any evidence of engine failure
7:57PM ( 3 hours ago )
Trump ousts officials who testified in impeachment inquiry
President Donald Trump has ousted Gordon Sondland, his ambassador to the European Union, who delivered damaging testimony during the impeachment inquiry
7:26PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Online National News
NH campaigns expected to shift into overdrive after debate
A few days before the next Democratic primary, the scene in New Hampshire is downright calm
9:32PM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: Biden calls for round of applause for Vindman
Former Vice President Joe Biden encouraged the crowd at Friday’s Democratic presidential debate to give a standing ovation to Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman after President Donald Trump ousted him in retribution for his testimony during House impeachment proceedings
9:00PM ( 2 hours ago )
The Latest: Sanders sure Democrats can unite to beat Trump
Bernie Sanders says he's confident Democrats can unify to defeat President Donald Trump, despite the president's attempts to paint Sanders' self-avowed "democratic socialist" label in a negative light
8:25PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP Elections
Iowa Democrats extend deadline for candidates to seek review
The Iowa Democratic Party has extended until Monday a deadline for presidential candidates to request a review of the results of this week's Iowa presidential caucuses
3:19PM ( 7 hours ago )
Candidates balance competing demands before debate, primary
Four days before the New Hampshire primary, the major Democratic contenders were hunkered down preparing for Friday night's debate and largely off the campaign trail during a critical stretch in which undecided voters are anxiously trying to make up their minds
3:04PM ( 8 hours ago )
The Latest: Trump likes having Iowa, New Hampshire vote 1st
President Donald Trump is tweeting reassurances to Iowa and New Hampshire that the two states will be first in the presidential primary schedule as long as he is president
2:18PM ( 8 hours ago )
General Election News
Biden shuffles top campaign leadership after Iowa
Joe Biden is reorganizing his top presidential campaign leadership after a fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses
2:13PM ( 9 hours ago )
10 Things to Know for Today
Get ready for Friday, Feb. 7 with a few things to know about the day’s news from The Associated Press
5:44AM ( 17 hours ago )
To win New Hampshire, Warren has to go through Sanders
Elizabeth Warren's path to victory may have to go through fellow progressive Bernie Sanders
5:21AM ( 17 hours ago )
General Presidential Election News
Trump unleashes fury at impeachment enemies at prayer event
At a prayer breakfast in Washington, President Donald Trump has unleashed his fury against those who tried to remove him from office
11:48AM ( 1 day ago )
Trump relishes impeachment acquittal as campaign revs up
President Donald Trump triumphantly held up copies of two newspapers with banner "ACQUITTED!" headlines as he took the stage at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington
9:13AM ( 1 day ago )
Trump barrels into 2020 campaign, emboldened after acquittal
The Senate's impeachment trial has ended, and now President Donald Trump is barreling into his reelection fight with a united Republican Party behind him
12:27AM ( 1 day ago )
AP Elections - Political Conventions
Poll pitch for India’s capital plays up growing divisions
Campaigning for a crucial state election in India's capital has reached a fever pitch as members of the Hindu nationalist-led government resort to calling for violence against minority Muslims and invoke the specter of arch-nemesis Pakistan to reverse course after a pair of losses in recent state polls
3:50AM ( 19 hours ago )
Auditor: More than $4M stolen from Mississippi welfare funds
Mississippi's state auditor says at least $4 million in federal welfare money was stolen by the former head of the state welfare agency and others in the nation's poorest state
7:48PM ( 1 day ago )
Messy Iowa caucuses leave cash-poor candidates struggling
The Iowa caucuses weren't just a colossal mess
7:00PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Elections - Campaigns
Anger and virus cases grow in China with 722 total deaths
The number of confirmed cases of the new virus has risen again in China while fatalities increased to 722, as the ruling Communist Party faces anger and recriminations from the public over the death of a doctor who was threatened by police after trying to sound the alarm about the disease over a month ago
11:08PM ( 5 minutes ago )
Raptors pull away from Pacers 115-106 for 13th straight win
The Toronto Raptors extended their franchise-record winning streak to 13 games behind 22 points from Serge Ibaka and 20 from Fred VanVleet
10:56PM ( 18 minutes ago )
Popular OF Hunter Pence returning to Giants
Former fan favorite Hunter Pence is returning to the San Francisco Giants, agreeing to a contract that will give the young club a veteran presence in both the outfield and clubhouse in a season of big change ahead
10:46PM ( 27 minutes ago )
Maryland rallies to beat Illinois 75-66
Anthony Cowan scored 20 points and ninth-ranked Maryland held on to beat No. 20 Illinois 75-66 on Friday night
10:28PM ( 46 minutes ago )
The Latest: Bloomberg isn't at debate, but he's name-dropped
Billionaire Michael Bloomberg didn’t qualify for the Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire -- but it didn’t always feel that way
10:18PM ( 55 minutes ago )