Feb. 7’s Democratic debate in New Hampshire was a momentous debate, undoubtedly one of the best so far. The reason: the race has officially commenced, and the first results are in. Accordingly, the contrasts between the candidates are more evident and amplified than ever. For some of the candidates, all their chips are on the table already. Another miserable result on Tuesday’s primary in New Hamshire could indicate the end for some of the remaining outsiders in the race, as abominable polling and sub-optimal results quickly lead to a stoppage of vital campaign donations.
Coming Out Of Iowa Focus Is On Buttigieg And Sanders
For the general public, the Iowa caucus results have made it a contest between Buttigieg and Sanders for the time being. Both are also leading the New Hampshire polls with 24 and 23 percent, respectively. A stable demeanor was thus all the more critical for all participants to maintain throughout the debate.
However, Buttigieg, as well as Sanders, had somewhat mixed appearances, though for different reasons. Sanders simply reiterated the talking points he has been saying for decades: against billionaires, Wall Street, and in favor of downright socialism in the US: a 180 degree-change of the current system. However, Sanders has learned to energize his base by utilizing a simplistic trick: avoiding direct questions—such as how he seeks to pay for his Medicare for all program—and redirecting each question towards an attack on Donald Trump, no matter what the question was originally about. What would have been graded as “insufficient” during a university exam, is sufficient on stage to generate loud and enthusiastic cheers of the young audience. However: America’s problems cannot be fixed via this approach.
Elizabeth Warren Failed To Stand Out In Debate
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, who has won a respectable third place in Iowa, needed to generate new momentum for herself during the debate. Moreover, and most importantly, she needed to cease to be a light-version of Sanders. Unfortunately for Warren, she did not succeed. Instead, she adhered to rehearsed amalgams from her campaign speeches and rarely got entangled in meaningful discourses. In terms of content, she scored her points by speaking out against corruption and “big money.” However, there was little new in Warren’s appearance, and she was not able to reposition herself among the front-runners.
Biden Playing The Long Game
Meanwhile, Vice President Biden, who still leads the polls nationally, made it clear yesterday that he does not expect victory in New Hampshire either. Instead, he is inclined to display patience until the states that better represent his electorate are due to vote. However, another crushing defeat in New Hampshire on Tuesday might turn out to be a serious encumbrance for Biden, as the total loss of momentum could result in financial difficulties in terms of donor money. Despite leading nationally, Biden has generated an unusually low amount of donations so far.
Biden is cognizant that the result in Iowa was a bitter setback. It is why yesterday, he attempted to be unusually aggressive for his standards—though the effectiveness of this approach is debatable. His strongest moment, without a doubt, occurred when he urged the audience to rise and pay respects to Alexander Vindman, who got fired by Trump as a White House employee on Friday for testifying in the impeachment process. Aside from that moment, it was a solid Biden appearance but arguably not as solid as it was required to be. Nonetheless, while he will likely never shine in the debate setup, Biden was able to articulate his positions and countered attacks by Sanders and billionaire candidate Tom Steyer.
Buttigieg’s Debate Performance
Pete Buttigieg, the Iowa caucus winner, had a completely different intricacy that evening. His recent success has startled the other candidates. He is young, personable, and rhetorically gifted. Accordingly, with the exception of Andrew Yang, Buttigieg was attacked by all candidates frequently. He was too young, too inexperienced, and was not cognizant of how to solve predicaments on a large scale, they claimed. In addition, Buttigieg was again faced with accepting party donations from billionaires.
Most importantly—however, and this was a significant difference to previous Buttigieg appearances—Buttigieg stumbled for the first time and offered the first real impression of where his campaign may or may not go in the end.
When asked by moderator Linsey Davis why racial disparities in drug-related arrests increased during his eight-year term in South Bend, Indiana, Buttigieg avoided a direct answer to the question—mainly because he simply could not have answered it without incriminating himself. Davis then asked Elizabeth Warren if Buttigieg’s answer was convincing. Her brief response: “No,” made the hall applaud loudly.
Buttigieg’s Weakness With African-Americans
Subsequently, all other candidates made their policies towards African-Americans transparent and responded to Buttigieg’s inadequate answer or lack thereof. Nonetheless, the candidates appear to have wasted an opportunity to attack Buttigieg more decisively in this instance because of the context.
For New Hampshire, a disproportionately white state, Buttigieg’s answer will not pose any problems. It will be different, however, once elections are being held on February 22 in Nevada on February 29 in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday in states with a significantly higher proportion of African-Americans and minorities.
Despite missing out on it yesterday, the indirect allegation of discrimination posed against Buttigieg will be resumed by the candidates during the next debates. Buttigieg better have a coherent answer at that point, as his numbers among African Americans are terrifyingly atrocious. Only 27% of African-American Democrats would be satisfied with Buttigieg as a candidate, which is 23 percentage points less than his support among all Democrats. No other Democrat does so poorly among this group.
Klobuchar’s Strong Debate Performance
Meanwhile, the big winner of the evening was Senator Amy Klobuchar. In Iowa, she obtained 12.3% and is generally regarded as an outsider in the race. However, her appearance yesterday was far more than one of an outsider with little or no chance.
Even before the debate was in full swing, she made a first strong statement. When ABC’s moderator George Stephanopoulos asked if any of the candidates on stage had concerns to run with a socialist candidate like Sanders against Donald Trump, none of them communicated their objection, except for Klobuchar. She warned that the moderate way was the only one to get people on board and win the election— which should have been the answer of all candidates not named Sanders or Warren.
During the debate, all her answers were generally excellent and precise. It became apparent that Klobuchar is a hard worker who prepares immaculately. No stutterers, no forgotten names, no incoherence. She looked focused and flawless.
Naturally, Klobuchar also had a few words for Buttigieg. It was not sufficient to present oneself as a “cool newcomer” and to downplay the hard work being done in Washington, she said. Most importantly, the United States already had a newcomer—in the White House—and the whole world was currently witnessing how it is working out. In turn, Klobuchar repeatedly emphasized her experience in Washington and how she had delivered various legislative through Congress over the years—even with bipartisan Republican support.
In many ways, the evening was a coming-out party for Klobuchar, who now has established herself as more than a dark horse, particularly in case the Buttigieg hype decreases and if Biden’s momentum does not pick up. In that case, all of a sudden Klobuchar could become a serious alternative to moderate Democrats. In New Hampshire, she is currently polling at only 8 percent, but a solid night might go a long way.