MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Candidates for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination staked out positions on a variety of issues and addressed criticisms from their competitors Friday while mostly sticking to the message of the need for unity in their efforts to defeat President Donald Trump in the November general election.
Qualifying candidates for the final Democratic debate prior to next week’s New Hampshire primary at St. Anselm College included former Vice President Joe Biden, US senators Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota), Bernie Sanders (Vermont), and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), businessmen Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang, and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Biden addressed his comparatively poor performance in the Iowa caucuses at the start of the debate.
“It’s a long race. I took a hit in Iowa and I’ll probably take a hit here. Traditionally, Bernie won by 20 points last time and usually it’s the neighboring senators who do well.( …) It doesn't matter whether it’s this one or the next," he said, adding that he's always viewed the earliest primaries as "the starting point" of the primary process.
BIden also criticized Sanders, questioning his electability.
“With regard to Sen. Sanders, the president wants very much to stick a label on every candidate,” Biden said. “We’re going to have to not only win this time, we’ve got to bring along the United States Senate, and Bernie’s labeled himself -- not me -- a democratic socialist. I think that's the label the president’s going to lay on everyone running with Bernie is he’s the nominee.”
The Vermont senator, who has been leading polls in adjacent New Hampshire, for his part pointed out that he also did well in Iowa.
“I believe that the way we beat Trump is by having the largest voter turnout in the history of this country, and that is appealing to working class people who have given up on the political process because they don’t believe that anybody is hearing their pain, perceiving their pain, feeling their pain, and we’ve got to bring young people into the political process,” Sanders said.
“I'm very proud that in Iowa we won the popular vote by 6,000 votes. What was most significant is we increased voter turnout for young people under 29 by over 30 percent. We do that nationally, we’re going to defeat Donald Trump."
Sen. Klobuchar similarly made her case for why voters should support her early in the debate.
“I think we need someone to head up this ticket that actually brings people with her instead of shutting them out,” she said.
“I add to that being able to bring in independents, like you have in this state, as well as moderate Republicans, because there are so many of them out there that are looking for a candidate, and truthfully Donald Trump’s worst nightmare is a candidate that will bring people in from the middle,” Klobuchar said, “the people that are tired of the noise and the nonsense and they are tired of the tweets and the mean stuff, and they are looking for someone else and I would submit that that is me.”
Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, also discussed his thinking on the Democrats’ strategy for defeating Trump in the general election, and why he fit the bill for best candidate to accomplish that goal.
“Here’s how we’re going to win," Buttigieg. "We’re going to force this president to stand on that debate stage next to somebody who actually lives in a middle class neighborhood in the industrial midwest in the exact kind of community that he pretends to speak for but turns his back on.”
Yang took a somewhat different view later in the debate on other Democrats’ focus on defeating Trump as their top priority.
“Donald Trump is not the cause of all of our problems and we’re making a mistake when we act like he is,” Yang said. “He is a symptom of a disease that has been building up in our communities for years and decades and it is our job to get to the harder work of actually curing the disease.”
Yang, who also promoted his famous plan to give every American $1,000 per month during the debate, said many communities feel like their way of life is disintegrating.
“That’s why Iowa, a traditional swing state, went to Trump by almost 10 points. That’s why Ohio, a traditional swing state, is now so red that I’m told we’re not even going to campaign there. So these communities are seeing their way of life get blasted into smithereens. We’ve automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs and counting, we’re closing 30 percent of New Hampshire stores and malls and Amazon, the force behind that, is literally paying zero in taxes,” Yang said.
“These are the changes that Americans are seeing and feeling around us every day and if we get to the hard work of curing those problems we will not just defeat Donald Trump but we will actually be able to move our communities forward,” he said.
Asked about the recent impeachment effort and Trump’s acquittal, Sen. Warren stressed the need for accountability in government.
“Look, people around this country are losing faith in our government, they’re losing faith that government works for them. They see a government that just works great if you’re rich, it works great if you’re a lobbyist, it works great if you’re a corporate executive, but they see themselves and their children with less and less and less. And we could do something about it. It’s not enough simply to talk about the future,” Warren said.
“We have to be willing to stand up to those who now control our government and make that government instead work for us. We can do child care in this country for every baby, we can invest in our public schools, we can cancel student loan debt for 43 million Americans, but only if we are willing to take control of our government away from the giant corporations and billionaires.”
Steyer, meanwhile, like the other candidates, framed America’s problems in a way that made the argument that he was the most electable and qualified candidate.
“The Republicans have a cruel plan, and their plan is pretty simple. It’s to cut taxes on the richest Americans and the biggest corporations, and then they pay for it by cutting education for kids, but cutting healthcare across the board, by allowing corporations to pollute as much as they want, and then they try and break unions and the organized labor movement. It’s very simple, that’s what Mr. Trump’s plan is, and it’s true in every single red state,” Steyer said.
“But we are not going to win just by just criticizing Mr. Trump. I know there is a better America out there and that America lives in our hearts and minds,” he said.
President Trump, “doesn’t understand that investing in education and health care and good union jobs is actually an investment in our common humanity and in growth, in the future, mobility and justice,” Steyer said. “That is the America that lives in our hearts and minds that will beat Mr. Trump, because he will never be able to imagine it.”