Electability questions persist. Anxieties about gender and sexism are resurgent. And three leading candidates are about to get yanked off the campaign trail for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.
Those deep uncertainties shadowed Tuesday’s Democratic debate, the last national stage for candidates running out of time to generate momentum ahead of the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses. Months of campaigning and millions of dollars in advertising have left Democrats with a crowded top tier, and it’s unclear if the debate helped any of the candidates break out of that pack. The six Democrats on stage - the smallest debate field yet - strained to keep the two-hour face-off civil and substantive. They drew policy contrasts with each other on national security, health care and trade, but repeatedly shifted the focus back to their common opponent: Trump.
The last four winners of the Iowa Democratic caucus have gone on to secure their party’s nomination. Yet that winner often emerges late, in the phase that Democrats are now entering - one where candidates typically begin drawing sharper contrasts with each other. Biden and Sanders, two candidates in their 70s who have surprised many in the party with their durability, were frequently at odds. Sanders sharply criticized Biden’s vote 17 years ago to authorize the Iraq war, saying that while he tried to stop the Bush administration, “Joe saw it differently.” Yet none of the candidates appeared eager to play the role of intra-party aggressor, preferring instead to use their national television time to tout their own readiness for office and make the case for why they are best suited to defeat Trump. Even a jarring rift that emerged this week between Sanders and Warren, a pair of progressive allies, passed within minutes. Sanders denied he had told Warren in a private meeting that a woman can’t beat Trump; Warren stood by her assertion and made a vigorous case for nominating a female candidate.
With files from the Associated Press