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US election 2020: Big questions after Democrats spar in New Hampshire

  • US election 2020: Big questions after Democrats spar in New Hampshire
    Polls suggest the two candidates who finished near the top in Iowa - Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders - are also vying for the top spot in New Hampshire. US election 2020: Big questions after Democrats spar in New Hampshire
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Four days after the Iowa caucuses descended into chaos and four days before New Hampshire holds its presidential primary, Democratic presidential hopefuls gathered in Manchester for their eighth debate.

Polls suggest the two candidates who finished near the top in Iowa - Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders - are also vying for the top spot in New Hampshire. Not surprisingly, then, they were the targets of the sharpest criticism.

It was Buttigieg, however, who proved to be the most attractive target. The Sanders faithful are loyal and unlikely to waver. Buttigieg has been prying supporters from Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren and blocking Amy Klobuchar's rise as a moderate alternative.

On Friday night, they fought back.

"Buttigieg is a great guy and a real patriot," Biden said at the top of the debate, before going for the throat. "He's a mayor of a small city who has done some good things, but has not demonstrated he has the ability to... get a broad scope of support across the spectrum, including African-Americans and Latinos."

Klobuchar also took a swipe at Buttigieg's relatively thin political resume, quipping that Donald Trump is also a newcomer to the White House, "and look where that got us". She took exception to Buttigieg's attempts to position himself as a mid-western outsider standing against Washington establishment opponents.

"It is easy to go after Washington, because that's a popular thing to do," she said. "It is much harder to lead and much harder to take those difficult positions, 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 don't think that's what people want right now."

Even ABC moderator Linsey Davis joined the fray, asking Buttigieg whether systemic racism explained why black people in South Bend when he was mayor were more likely to be arrested for drug offences.

"There is no question that systemic racism has penetrated to every level of our system," Buttigieg replied. "And my city was not immune."

When asked if his answer was sufficient, Elizabeth Warren said: "No".

"We have to own up to the facts," she continued. "And it's important to own up to the facts of how race has permeated our criminal justice system."

Sanders didn't emerge entirely unscathed, however. Biden challenged him to explain how he was going to pass his ambitious universal government healthcare plan, which he said would cost more than the entire current US federal budget.

Buttigieg also took aim at the Vermont senator, suggesting that his liberal extremism was "dividing people with the politics that says, if you don't go all the way to the edge, it doesn't count, a politics that says it's my way or the highway".

"Needless to say, I never said that," Sanders countered, turning back to his tried and true campaign theme. "The way you bring people together is by presenting an agenda that works for the working people of this country, not for the billionaire class."

Debate topics included gun control, trade deals, the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, drug legalisation, the Supreme Court, impeachment and healthcare reform.

The major source of friction between the candidates, however, was who was best positioned to beat Trump in November. Electability, Democratic voters consistently tell pollsters, is their overriding concern.