Manchester, New Hampshire – Favorites in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, repelled a barrage of attacks during a debate Friday night while their rivals persistently questioned their ideology and experience, hoping to shed doubts about his ability to defeat Donald Trump in the November elections.
Recovering from a discreet result in the Iowa caucuses this week, former Vice President Joe Biden was the most aggressive. He raised doubts about Sanders’ status as a Socialist Democrat and said that Buttigieg – mayor of South Bend, Indiana, 38 – has no experience to lead in a complicated world. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is trying to sneak into the head group of the crowded primary, made similar criticisms.
But Sanders and Buttigieg, who practically tied in the Iowa party assemblies, dodged criticism.RELATED
“Donald Trump lies all the time,” Sanders said in response to suggestions that the president would use the way he presents himself to qualify him and all Democrats as radical.
Buttigieg tried to turn skepticism about his curriculum into something positive, describing himself as a new face outside the Washington political circuit with experience in managing real-life problems and ready to lead a tired nation in a new direction.
“I am interested in the style of politics that we need to prioritize to finally turn the page,” Buttigieg said. And in a critique of Biden, he added: “I freely admit that if they are looking for the person with the most years of experience in Washington, they have their candidate and, of course, it is not me.”
Friday’s was the eighth, and perhaps most relevant, debate within the long process of the Democratic Party to elect its candidate for presidential elections. The debate was held just four days after the chaotic Iowa caucuses, and four others from the New Hampshire primary, with several candidates facing questions about their political survival.
Although several had moments of prominence, it was not clear how the debate could change the trajectory of the campaign.
Biden was especially explicit about the status of his candidacy at the start of the debate and predicted that he “would receive a blow” in New Hampshire the next week before the primary moves to more diverse states where he expects better performance.
On stage he faced criticism for being too linked to the Washington system to represent the change that many Democratic voters say they are looking for. Once again, he responded by aligning with former President Barack Obama.
“I think the politicians of the past were not so bad,” Biden said. “I don’t know what was bad about the past with Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”
Biden had to defend his extensive record when the candidates discussed the decision almost two decades ago to send US soldiers to Iraq.
Biden acknowledged again that his vote in favor of authorizing war when he was a senator was a mistake, while Sanders pointed out that his vote against the Senate was proof of his judgment in matters of national security. Buttigieg, who was at the time at the university and later served in Afghanistan, said he would also have opposed the war.
Although the debate was heated in some sections, there were also moments of unity, with the conscious candidates of the elementary voters having little interest in seeing an internal fight with a bare chest. When a moderator asked Klobuchar to respond to Hillary Clinton’s comments that Sanders doesn’t like anyone, Biden approached him to hug him. Klobuchar, on the other hand, joked that Sanders is “good” and recalled that in the past they worked together in politics.
A serious Biden was grateful when Buttigieg defended him and his son Hunter from Trump’s attacks in the investigation of his political trial.
Another favorite, Massachusetts Senator Elisabeth Warren, avoided directly criticizing her rivals and emphasized one of her campaign’s messages: the fight against corruption. While Biden, Sanders and Klobuchar faced medical attention, Warren stood by talking broadly about the need to reduce the cost of prescription drugs.
Meanwhile, billionaire activist Tom Steyer and New York businessman Andrew Yang tried to make a dent in the contest.