Buttigieg, Sanders Take Iowa Feud to New Hampshire Stage Tonight

(Bloomberg) -- Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders will meet face-to-face on the debate stage Friday in Manchester, New Hampshire, amid a bitter and unresolved dispute over which one of them will emerge victorious from this week’s Iowa caucuses.

With Buttigieg pulling ahead in the delegate total — with one delegate yet to be awarded, according to the Associated Press — Buttigieg and Sanders have become co-front-runners in the all-important delegate race.

For now, they’re also the standard-bearers of two distinct wings of the Democratic Party: Buttigieg the Midwestern centrist, and Sanders the coastal progressive.

Sanders said Friday he’ll underscore that difference in the debate.

“Tonight at the debate they’ll ask you a variety of questions about this issue and that issue. That’s fine. You’ve got to hear the answers,” he said Friday in Manchester. “But it’s deeper than that: Which side are you on? Are you on the side of the working class of this country which has been battered for the last 45 years? Are you willing to take on the greed and the corruption of the billionaire class and the one percent? Or will you continue to stand with the billionaires?”

Buttigieg, for his part, set a respectful tone in advance of the debate, congratulating Sanders for a “great night” in Iowa.

“What I really admired about Senator Sanders — and still do — is his consistency and willingness to say exactly what he believes,” Buttigieg told CNN Thursday. “It doesn’t mean I agree with him. I didn’t agree with him on everything then and don’t agree with him on everything now. But I do believe that wherever we fall on some pundit’s ideological spectrum, we have a responsibility to talk about what we believe in and to make the case for what we think is right, when it’s popular and when it’s not.”

The Iowa result has tightened the race in New Hampshire, with an average of polls showing that Buttigieg has cut Sanders’ lead in half in the days after a surprisingly strong showing on Monday.

Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, two of the most closely scrutinized candidates in the seven previous debates, are likely to go on the offensive after unexpectedly weak finishes in Iowa.

Buttigieg, Sanders Take Iowa Feud to New Hampshire Stage Tonight

Biden telegraphed his punches in Somersworth, New Hampshire, on Wednesday. He said Sanders’ self-identification as a democratic socialist was hurting the party, and that Buttigieg “has never held an office higher than mayor of a town of 100,000 people in Indiana.”

Three other candidates will also participate in the debate at St. Anselm College: Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang. The debate begins at 8 p.m. Eastern Time and will be broadcast on ABC.

Buttigieg and Sanders have sparred in previous debates, particularly over the future of private health insurance. Sanders favors a government-run Medicare for All plan, while Buttigieg would retain a role for private insurance. Sanders also has a plan for free public college for everyone, while Buttigieg would limit the aid to low- and middle-income families.

They’ve also clashed about money in politics: Sanders is financing his campaign through small-dollar contributions, while Buttigieg has cultivated a more traditional network of Democratic donors, including a now-famous gathering at a California “wine cave” that brought him derision from his rivals during an earlier debate in Los Angeles.

The New Hampshire debates often mark a turning point in a presidential campaign, as the field of candidates is winnowed and voters begin to pay closer attention.

The pre-primary Democratic debate in 2016 featured just two candidates and was the lowest-rated of the year, with only 4.5 million tuning in to MSNBC. In one memorable exchange, Hillary Clinton demanded that Sanders stop his “very artful smear” about her speaking fees and campaign contributions.

Sanders won the New Hampshire primary that year after a narrow loss in Iowa. He’s positioned to do so again, with a lead of nearly 5 points over Buttigieg in the RealClearPolitics average of recent state polls.

But Buttigieg has gotten a polling bump after running neck-and-neck with Sanders in the Iowa caucuses, and now trails his better-known competitor by less than 5 percentage points.

Warren and Biden are hovering around the 15% threshold needed to win delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

Buttigieg, Sanders Take Iowa Feud to New Hampshire Stage Tonight

The New Hampshire debate will be the last under rules that put an emphasis on fund-raising for candidates to qualify.

Beginning with the Nevada debate on Feb. 19, candidates with 10% support in four approved polls, or 12% in two polls, will be invited to debate. Candidates can also qualify by earning at least one pledged delegate to the Democratic National Convention, a change long planned.

The new eligibility thresholds could allow former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to qualify for the debates, even though he’s self-funding his presidential campaign. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, which is the parent company of Bloomberg News.

But the changes could also mean the end of the line for Steyer, Yang and Tulsi Gabbard unless they have surprising finishes in New Hampshire.

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