Key takeaways from ABC News' Democratic debate

Attacks on Buttigieg and Sanders as Klobuchar shines. Here are the takeaways.

February 07, 2020, 11:25 PM

Just four days before the New Hampshire primary, seven candidates took the stage in The Granite State for one of their final moments to pitch themselves as the best Democratic choice for the 2020 election.

Here are the major takeaways from the ABC News Democratic debate.

Sanders, Buttigieg face heat as the top candidates out of Iowa

Despite an initial tout of unity from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, at the beginning of the debate, it didn't take long for the opponents to take aim against one another.

Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg unsurprisingly was a target after he and Sanders finished as the two possible winners out of Iowa. Buttigieg and Sanders both had 26% of the state delegates, according to the Iowa Democratic Party. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, had 18% and former Vice President Joe Biden had 16%, the results showed.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez called for recanvassing of the results Thursday after the caucuses were hit with continued reports of errors and inconsistencies.

In a striking moment, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, compared the former mayor's popularity to President Donald Trump's in 2016.

"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," she said. "I don't think that's what people want right now. We have a newcomer in the white house and look where it got us. I think having some experience is a good thing."

Biden described him as "a mayor of a small city who has done some good things but has not demonstrated he has the ability to -- and we'll soon find out -- to get a broad scope of support across the spectrum including African-Americans and Latinos."

Sanders also faced heat. Buttigieg went after Sanders for what he described as "politics that says if you don't vote all the way to the edge, it doesn't count."

When asked if Buttigieg was referring to Sanders, he replied, "yes."

PHOTO: From left, Democratic presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, participate in a primary debate, Feb. 7, 2020 in Manchester, N.H.
From left, Democratic presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, participate in a primary debate, Feb. 7, 2020 in Manchester, N.H.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Klobuchar similarly said that she thinks the country needs someone who "actually brings people with her instead of shutting them out." She was responding to a question of whether or not anyone on stage was nervous about having a democratic socialist at the top of the ticket.

Two days earlier, former Vice President Joe Biden launched an attack at Sanders for an embrace of a "socialist" label.

ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega said Sanders was "taking hits from all sides forced to defend his stance on socialism. And he came ready to fight back."

At the debate, Biden took aim at Sanders over health care and how much it would cost.

"He said, 'We'll find out,' or something to that effect. Imagine you're going to unite the country walking into the congress saying I got this bill that's going to require Medicare for everybody. I can't tell you how much it's going to cost. We'll find out later," Biden said.

PHOTO: Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidates Andrew Yang, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Amy Klobuchar and billionaire activist Tom Steyer pose.
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and billionaire activist Tom Steyer pose before the eighth Democratic 2020 presidential debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., February 7, 2020.
Brian Snyder/Reuters

Klobuchar has a big night

In one of the first moments on stage, Klobuchar point-blank said Americans are looking for someone who can attract the middle and not shut voters out.

"And I would submit that is me," Klobuchar said.

She also wasn't afraid to make cases against her opponents.

In defense of the Affordable Care Act, Klobuchar launched an attack against Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential hopefuls Sen. Amy Klobuchar and billionaire activist Tom Steyer speak during the eighth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. Feb. 7, 2020.
Democratic presidential hopefuls Sen. Amy Klobuchar and billionaire activist Tom Steyer speak during the eighth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. Feb. 7, 2020.
Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

"I keep listening to this same debate, and it is not real," she said. "It is not real, Bernie, because two-thirds of the Democrats in the Senate are not on your bill and because it would kick 149 million Americans off their current health insurance in four years. And let me say what else. Elizabeth wants to do it in two years. And Pete, you sent out a tweet just a few years ago that said affirmatively you are for Medicare for All for the ages. So I would like to point out that leadership is taking a position, looking at things and sticking with them."

ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl said Klobuchar was having "her best debate."

"She's taking on her opponents, making contrasts, but also clearly articulating the case for her candidacy," Karl said.

ABC News Senior National Correspondent Terry Moran similarly said Klobuchar had her best debate.

"She's hit Buttigieg hard, and taken on Bernie to good effect as well. And she's done it while delivering her message—that she is the most pragmatic, optimistic, centrist candidate on that stage," Moran said.

He noted it might be "too little, too late," but said, "she is shining here tonight."

While Klobuchar may have shined, Warren appeared to miss her moment.

ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce said she was surprised that Warren didn't dominate the stage as much as she had in previous debates.

"She just didn't seem to have that big standout moment, and she needs that because, as we had been discussing, she needs a win in early states," Bruce said. "I think she was hoping her near home state advantage might give her a boost, but I didn't really see that tonight."

Both women were endorsed by the New York Times, a surprising move and a break from the tradition of one candidate earning the paper's endorsement.

Race makes its way into the conversation

Nearly 90 minutes into the debate -- of which there was only one person of color -- the topic of race was brought up after billionaire Tom Steyer criticized his party for not talking about it before.

"We're in trouble," Steyer said. "And so the question is going to be, look at these people, who can pull together the Democratic party? And let me say this, we have not said one word tonight about race. Not one word. Are you kidding me? We have the most diverse party. We have a very diverse country. We have a very diverse party. The heart and soul of this party is diversity. Black people, Latinos, AAPI people, Native Americans, and white people."

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer participates in the Democratic presidential primary debate in the Sullivan Arena at St. Anselm College on February 07, 2020 in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer participates in the Democratic presidential primary debate in the Sullivan Arena at St. Anselm College on February 07, 2020 in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Klobuchar later took the opportunity to speak about voter suppression and how it disproportionately affects voters of color.

"There's something else insidious going on we haven't addressed, and that is the systemic racism when it comes to voting that moves across the country to limit people's right to vote. That is why I have been leading on these bills to automatically register every kid to vote in this country when they turn 18. There is no reason we can't do that across the country to stop the gerrymandering by setting up independent commissions in every state and yes, to stop the voting purges," Klobuchar said.

"We are not going to be able to get any of these things done if we don't give people the right to vote," she said.

ABC News "Nightline" co-anchor Byron Pitts noted that Latinos were all-but-entirely absent from the conversation.

"Thus far no discussion of Latinos by any of the candidates through healthcare, employment and criminal justice reform," Pitts said.

For the first time, Hispanic people are projected to be the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the electorate for the 2020 election, according to the Pew Research Center.

Democrats spar over health care again

Health care once more took center stage at the Democratic debate.

Sanders found himself defending his Medicare-for-all bill against moderate candidates Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar, all of whom decried it as a longshot.

"Bernie says that you have to bring people together, and we have to have Medicare for All. But Bernie says, and he says he wrote the damn thing, but he's unwilling to tell us what the damn thing's gonna cost," Biden said.

PHOTO: Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden gestures towards Senator Bernie Sanders during the eighth Democratic 2020 presidential debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, February 7, 2020.
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden gestures towards Senator Bernie Sanders during the eighth Democratic 2020 presidential debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., February 7, 2020.
Brian Snyder/Reuters

Sanders hit back saying that Biden's plan would cost $50 trillion on health care over the next 10 years.

"We are spending twice as much per capita on health care as do the people of any other country. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the healthcare industry last year made $100 billion in profits," Sanders said.

Buttigieg admitted that while the majority of Americans are ready to make sure there is no such thing as an uninsured American, "I think there's a better way. You know, it's true, the American people are ready. … Just so long as we don't command people to accept a public plan if they don't want to."

Biden touts his record after disappointing Iowa results

Biden used his onstage moment to come back from disappointing results in Iowa.

Aggressively touting his record, Biden said he "busted his neck" getting Obamacare passed, is the "only guy that beat the NRA twice" and is someone "who's already begun to make a down payment" on the opioid crisis.

He also went after Buttigieg and Sanders -- the two top contenders from the caucuses. The former vice president said Buttigieg did not have enough experience, while he slammed Sanders for not being upfront about how much Medicare for All would cost.

By the end of the night, Biden had the most speaking time at 19 minutes and 35 seconds.

Despite the technical issues, delay in reporting and unclear final results, with 100% of precincts reporting, Biden was in fourth place at 16% behind Buttigieg, Sanders and Warren. Biden's numbers in Iowa may not appear to be a good start, but the former Vice President is banking on a decisive victory in South Carolina, the last of the early states before Super Tuesday.

Related Topics

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events