Follow along for updates from tonight’s Democratic primary debate at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire. The three-hour debate began at 8 p.m. ET and is being broadcast on ABC.
Biden, Sanders spar on Medicare for All — again
Former Vice President Joe Biden slammed Sen. Bernie Sanders for his signature policy, Medicare for All, saying that the Vermont senator has yet to say how he is going to pay for it.
“Bernie says you have to bring people together and we have to have Medicare for All,” Biden said. “And he says he wrote the damn thing, but he’s unwilling to say what the damn thing is going to cost.”
Biden claims that Sanders has said “we’ll figure it out later” in terms of how much his bill will cost. Biden also doubted that Sanders could get Medicare for All passed, noting that he “busted my neck” to get the Affordable Care Act passed.
Sanders, however, said that “if we do what Joe wants,” the United States will spend $50 trillion over the next 10 years.
“We are spending twice as much per capita on health care as do the people of any other country,” Sanders said. “Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the health care industry last year made $100 billion dollars in profit.”
Sanders said that Medicare for All would same the American people “substantial sums of money.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar also piled on, saying Medicare for All does not have widespread support like Sanders has said it does.
“I keep listening to the same debate, and it’s not real,” she said, adding that two-thirds of the Democrats in the Senate have yet to sign onto Sanders’ bill.
— Rebecca Morin
The debate over old vs. new
Pete Buttigieg made the case for generational change, arguing for a perspective that will leave behind the “politics of the past” and turn the page.
Joe Biden had a wide grin on his face when Buttigieg said he’s not the right candidate if voters are looking for the person with the most Washington establishment experience. But he is if they want a different perspective.
“The politics of the past were not all that bad,” Biden responded. He mentioned legislation he worked on to ban chemical weapons and fight violence against women. He also touted his early support for same sex marriage.
“I don’t know what about the past of Barack Obama and Joe Biden is so bad,” Biden said.
Buttigieg countered that the last Democratic administration was successful because it “met the moment.”
“Now we have to meet this moment, and this moment is different,” he said.
— Maureen Groppe
Sanders: Trump ‘lies all the time’
Bernie Sanders was asked if Democrats should fret if he wins the nomination given how President Donald Trump has already gone after the Vermont senator who describes himself as a democratic socialist.
“Those hits are going to keep coming if you’re the nominee,” moderator George Stephanopoulos asked the senator. “Why shouldn’t Democrats be worried?”
“Because Donald Trump lies all the time,” Sanders retorted. “He will say terrible things about Joe (Biden). He has (said) ugly, disgusting things about Elizabeth (Warren).”
“At the end of the day … everybody up here is united,” Sanders continued. “No matter who wins this damn thing, we’re all going to stand together to defeat Donald Trump.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar raised her hand when the candidates were asked who would be afraid of a socialist running as the party’s candidate in November.
“I think we are not going to be able to out-divide the divider in chief, and I think we need someone to head up this ticket that actually brings people with her, instead of shutting them out” Klobuchar answered, continuing that, “Donald Trump’s worst nightmare is a candidate who will bring people in from the middle.”
— Ledyard King and Savannah Behrmann
Buttigieg goes after Sanders
Pete Buttigieg wasted no time drawing a distinction between himself and Sen. Bernie Sanders, saying Democrats must unite the country, not divide it by saying “if you don’t go all the way to the end, it doesn’t count.”
Are you talking about Sanders? he was asked.
“Yes,” Buttigieg replied.
Sanders disputed the description.
“Needless to say, I’ve never said that,” he responded.
Sanders said the way to bring people together is with an agenda that works for working people, not billionaires.
Before the debate, Sanders had accused Buttigieg of being beholden to wealthy donors.
— Maureen Groppe
Biden says he probably won’t win New Hampshire
In the opening minute of the debate, former Vice President Joe Biden – already stinging from a poor showing in Iowa – acknowledged he also probably won’t do well in New Hampshire Tuesday.
“I’ll probably take a hit here,” Biden said.
He pointed to the fact that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire in 2016 and represents a neighboring state.
Biden said he considers not just Iowa and New Hampshire, but also Nevada and South Carolina, to be the “starting point” for the nominating contest. Biden is counting on his strong support from African American voters to do well in subsequent states.
The question that prompted his response was why he has criticized Sanders and Pete Buttigieg as too risky to be the nominee when they won Iowa.
Biden said that Sanders’ label of Democratic Socialist would hurt other Democrats lower on the ballot. And Buttigieg, Biden said, is a great guy and a patriot but is the former mayor of a small city who hasn’t shown he can attract a “broad spectrum of support.”
— Maureen Groppe
Will verbal punches be thrown?
And now for the recurring question before each debate: Who will throw the most punches and which candidate will be the biggest target?
When former Vice President Joe Biden was perceived as the frontrunner as the debates began last year, California Sen. Kamala Harris went after his record on busing. In the long run, the attack didn’t help Harris, who dropped out in December. And Biden’s poor showing in Iowa means he may go after the top Iowa finishers.
Biden did that Wednesday in New Hampshire when he suggested both Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg were risky choices. Biden said Sanders’ identification as a Democratic Socialist would make it harder for Democrats farther down on the ballot to win. Buttigieg is a dicey choice, Biden said, because he’s never held an office higher than mayor of a small city.
Friday, Sanders accused Buttigieg of being beholden to rich donors.
“I like Pete Buttigieg, nice guy,” Sanders said at an event in New Hampshire. “But we are in a moment where billionaires control not only our economy but our political life.”
His campaign started promoting #PetesBillionaires on Twitter.
— Maureen Groppe
Veterans courting veterans
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who did not qualify for tonight’s debate stage, is trying to get the attention of viewers in another way.
Gabbard launched an ad Friday morning promising to bring “a soldier’s values” to the White House: dignity, honor, respect and service.
In her underdog campaign, Gabbard has been focusing most of her attention on New Hampshire. The state has a disproportionate share of veterans, which could help the Army veteran. But she’s not the only candidate with military experience.
VoteVets, the political action committee that backs liberal veterans running for office, has run ads in New Hampshire supporting Pete Buttigieg, a former Navy officer.
On Thursday, Buttigieg held a “conversation with New Hampshire veterans” at an American Legion Post in Merrimack.
— Maureen Groppe
Candidates show force in walk up to event space
Andrew Yang may be trailing distantly in the polls, but his campaign did turn out the most young enthusiasts on the two-lane road leading to Saint Anselm College, waving signs and encouraging drivers in passing cars to honk their support. No. 2 in the highway straw poll were Elizabeth Warren supporters, chanting “L! I! Z!” The presence required a certain amount of commitment, given the freezing rain that was falling. (It is New Hampshire, after all, and in February.)
The media filing center, set up in a gym, was set up with work spaces for 414 journalists, plus a dozen TV crews lined up along one wall.
— Susan Page
New Hampshire voters are independent in more ways than one
Democrats may not be the only New Hampshire voters paying close attention to tonight’s debate. The state allows independents – voters not registered as Democrats or Republicans – to participate in Tuesday’s primary. And “unaffilated” voters make up the biggest chunk of the electorate.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won independents in his 2016 primary race against Hillary Clinton. But more moderate candidates — like former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar – are targeting disaffected Republicans who’ve become independents. And outsider candidates like Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and entrepreneur Andrew Yang could also grab some of the independent vote away from Sanders this time.
New Hampshire is independent in another way as well. The state has a reputation for going its own way by delivering surprises to the frontrunner. It famously made Bill Clinton the “Comeback Kid” when he finished second place during a turbulent stretch of his 1992 campaign. And just when it looked like Barack Obama had a straight shot to the nomination with his 2008 win in Iowa, New Hampshire Democrats gave the victory to Hillary Clinton instead.
When Clinton was the frontrunner for the 2016 nomination, however, New Hampshire voters flocked to Sanders.
The latest Boston Globe/WBZ-TV/Suffolk poll released Thursday shows Sanders at 24% with Buttigieg close behind at 23%. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was the choice of 13% and Biden was picked by 11%. No other candidate was in double digits.
In an NBC News/Marist poll released hours before the debate, Sanders led with 25%, Buttigieg got 21%, Warren had 14% and Biden was at 13%.
— Maureen Groppe
Who will be on stage and what’s at stake
With the chaos of the Iowa caucuses (mostly) in the rear-view mirror, the top candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination appear on stage tonight for a debate in New Hampshire four days before the Granite State holds the first-in-the-nation primary Tuesday.
New Hampshire could be the moment where Iowa’s top finishers – former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders – separate themselves from the pack. Or where Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden regain their footing after third and fourth places finishes in Iowa, respectively.
It could also mark the end of the line for Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Andrew Yang. Klobuchar out-performed her polling in Iowa but still walked away with only 1 national delegate. Yang left Iowa with 0.
The candidates’ order on stage was determined not by the Iowa results but by averaging the results of polls taken nationally and in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
That put Biden in the center, flanked by Sanders and Warren. They’re sharing the stage with Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Yang and businessman Tom Steyer.
Yang, who was absent from the Iowa debate last month, met the qualifications for New Hampshire which included polling and donor thresholds.
Moderators include George Stephanopoulos, “World News Tonight” Anchor, ABC Managing Editor David Muir and ABC News Live Anchor Linsey Davis. Joining them will be WMUR-TV Political Director Adam Sexton and WMUR-TV News Anchor Monica Hernandez.
The focus on New Hampshire could be welcome news for Democrats who saw the Senate acquit President Donald Trump Wednesday and watched as Iowa’s caucuses disintegrated into confusion following multiple issues that delayed election results.