6 takeaways from the Democratic debate in Iowa

During the CNN/Des Moines Register debate, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is asked about his support from black voters.

Posted: Jan 15, 2020 6:00 AM
Updated: Jan 15, 2020 6:00 AM

Caution ruled the night of the final Democratic presidential debate before the Iowa caucuses.

There were some clashes on stage, but the generally careful approach from the four candidates that sit atop the Iowa polls -- former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren -- suggested they all believe they have paths to victory and weren't eager to change the race's course so close to the first real test of 2020.

The CNN/Des Moines Register debate's most memorable moment might have come from Warren, who, in a direct pitch for her electability, made the case that a woman is best suited to beat Trump in 2020.

Warren and Sanders, after trying to de-escalate their ongoing feud on stage during the debate, appeared to have a tense moment as candidates exited the stage. Businessman Tom Steyer was standing inches from the two during the exchange, but said afterward he had no idea what it was about, leaving everyone wondering what was said.

Here are six takeaways from the debate:

Warren's pitch for a woman candidate

Warren and Sanders remain at odds over whether he told her, during a private dinner in 2018 about the presidential election, that a woman couldn't win -- neither backed off their previous statements. But both of the populist politicians seemed intent on avoiding a debate stage crack-up.

Instead of litigating the details of the conversation, Warren decided to use the question about it to notch a point for the female candidates of 2020 -- and land a cheeky dig at the men.

"This question about whether or not a woman can be president has been raised and it's time for us to attack it head-on," Warren said. "I think the best way to talk about who can win is by looking at people's winning record. So, can a woman beat Donald Trump? Look at the men on this stage: Collectively, they have lost 10 elections. The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they've been in are the women."

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the only other woman on stage, interjected, "So true. So true."

When asked directly about Sanders' alleged comment, Warren offered a one-line response, again confirming what four sources told CNN about the meeting and saying she "disagreed" with the suggestion a woman couldn't prevail in 2020. But that was as far as it went. She quickly added, "Bernie is my friend, and I am not here to try to fight with Bernie."

Sanders, who has denied making the remark, asked voters to look back at his past rhetoric and remember that he only ran in 2016 because Warren, who had been the subject of a draft campaign by progressives, ultimately passed on challenging Hillary Clinton for the nomination.

"I don't want to waste a whole lot of time on this because this is what Donald Trump and maybe some of the media want," Sanders said. "But anybody who knows me, knows that it's incomprehensible that I would think that a woman could not be president to the United States. Go to YouTube today. They have some video of me 30 years ago talking about how a woman could become president of the United States."

The foreign policy debate

Tuesday night brought the most substantive foreign policy debate of the Democratic race to date, with tensions flaring in the Middle East bringing the issue to the forefront.

It started with Sanders attacking Biden's 2002 vote to authorize the use of military force in Iraq.

"Joe and I listened to what Dick Cheney and George Bush and Rumsfeld had to say. I thought they were lying. I didn't believe them for a moment. I took to the floor. I did everything I could to prevent that war," Sanders said.

Biden acknowledged that his vote was a "mistake." But he also said former President Barack Obama -- who won the 2008 Democratic presidential primary in part because of his opposition to the Iraq war -- put Biden in charge of ending that war.

"I think my record overall, on every other thing we've done, has been -- compares to anybody on this stage," Biden said.

It's a test of whether the issue that helped propel then-Sen. Barack Obama past Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic race retains its political potency 12 years later.

The foreign policy portion of the debate also allowed Buttigieg to highlight his military experience -- he was a US Navy Reserve lieutenant who served in Afghanistan.

"I'm ready to take on Donald Trump because when he gets to the tough talk and the chest-thumping, he'll have to stand next to an American war veteran and explain how he pretended bone spurs made him ineligible to serve," he said, referencing how Trump avoided the Vietnam War.

The Democratic candidates also agreed that Congress needs to issue a new directive if the United States is going to continue launching new attacks under the auspices of nearly two-decade old votes.

Warren and Buttigieg clash on health care

A short, but direct, debate between Warren and Buttigieg on health care highlighted not only their key differences in the race, but how the two candidates are likely to go after each other in the coming months.

The flashpoint of the back-and-forth came after Warren said the "problem" with plans like Buttigieg's is that while they are an improvement, they are a "small improvement."

"That's why is costs so much less," she said.

Warren supports "Medicare for All," a sweeping health care proposal that would begin transition the United States to a single payer health care system. Buttigieg, instead, has proposed a "Medicare for all who want it" plan that would not force all American onto government health coverage but would offer a public option for people who choose to enroll.

Buttigieg shot back -- but did so with a subtle line that highlights the Buttigieg campaign's belief that Warren's candidacy is divisive and would turn certain voters off.

"It's just not true that the plan I'm proposing is small," Buttigieg said of Warren. "We have to move past the Washington mentality that suggests that the bigness of plans only consists of how many trillions of dollars they put through the Treasury, that the boldness of a plan consists of how many Americans it can alienate."

At the same time, Warren's overarching view on Buttigieg -- that he is proposing middle of the road plans that fail to excite people or fully address an issue -- was laid out during the exchange.

"The numbers that the mayor is offering don't add up," she said. "You can't cover that with a kind of money that the mayor is talking about."

Klobuchar takes on progressive rivals

Klobuchar needed a star turn in Tuesday's debate to catapult her out of fifth place in Iowa -- the state on which her hopes for the nomination swing.

She positioned herself as the moderate aggressor in the progressive-against-moderate dynamic that has defined several Democratic debates and was on display again Tuesday night in portions over child care, college tuition and more.

Sanders and Warren have advocated making tuition at public universities free. But Klobuchar argued that tax money should be focused on connecting educational opportunities with jobs that need to be filled.

"We're not going to have a shortage of MBAs. We're going to have a shortage of plumbers," she said.

Klobuchar sought to focus on issues where a harshly divided Congress could realistically make a difference. She shined a spotlight on Americans' struggle to afford long-term care for the aging, and she touted her efforts to lower prescription drug costs.

Klobuchar also criticized the Senate GOP for considering going ahead with Trump's impeachment trial without any witnesses.

"They may as well give the President a crown and a scepter. They may as well make him king," she said.

Biden's strength with black voters unchallenged

The former vice president has arguably the single most important asset of any Democratic 2020 candidate: Deep, consistent support from black voters -- the constituency that will decide the South Carolina primary and tip a large share of the delegates on Super Tuesday.

And on Tuesday night, it went unchallenged.

The two leading black candidates to enter the 2020 race, California Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, aggressively challenged Biden's record on race in early debates -- but both have since dropped out.

The candidates could have steered questions over climate change, child care, health care and more toward racial injustice. With a few exceptions -- most notably, Warren in her closing statement -- they didn't do so.

It's set the Democratic race up for a scenario where Biden could be hard to beat if he turns in strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, because after those two states vote, the primary shifts to states with more diverse electorates.

Buttigieg pressed on lack of black support

Buttigieg was asked directly about his struggle to win over black voters and said that "the black voters that know me best are supporting me," pointing to backers in South Bend.

He went on to say that "of course there is a much longer way to go in my community and around the country" on issues of race, he will "be a president whose personal commitment is to continue doing this work."

"The biggest mistake we can make is take black votes for granted. I never will," he said.

Buttigieg later returned to the issue -- unprompted -- during his closing argument, when he said, "If you're a voter of color, feeling taken for granted by politics as usual, join me."

Both moments highlight the existential threat to Buttigieg's candidacy and the fact that the former mayor knows he needs to address the issue before the primary fight turns to more diverse states like Nevada and South Carolina.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 30900

Reported Deaths: 1111
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds249840
DeSoto159416
Madison130034
Jones112449
Neshoba98871
Rankin93412
Harrison91211
Lauderdale90979
Forrest86942
Scott77115
Jackson62216
Copiah60215
Washington5849
Leake57819
Holmes55341
Lee54718
Wayne54513
Oktibbeha54126
Warren51518
Yazoo5096
Leflore48751
Grenada4835
Lowndes48313
Lincoln46034
Lamar4587
Pike43112
Monroe40130
Lafayette3914
Sunflower3727
Attala36023
Covington3565
Panola3506
Newton3399
Bolivar33414
Simpson3173
Adams31118
Pontotoc2866
Tate28310
Marion28111
Chickasaw27718
Claiborne27410
Noxubee2638
Jasper2626
Winston2616
Pearl River25432
Clay25010
Marshall2323
Smith21811
Clarke20724
Union2079
Coahoma2016
Walthall1995
Kemper17914
Lawrence1772
Yalobusha1707
Carroll16511
Humphreys1479
Tallahatchie1364
Itawamba1358
Montgomery1322
Calhoun1304
Tippah13011
Hancock12813
Webster12710
Jefferson Davis1114
Prentiss1083
Jefferson1073
Greene1058
Tunica1003
Wilkinson949
Amite912
George883
Tishomingo801
Quitman760
Choctaw744
Alcorn692
Perry664
Stone651
Franklin452
Sharkey370
Benton360
Issaquena91
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 44375

Reported Deaths: 984
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson5221152
Montgomery4127103
Mobile4080134
Tuscaloosa228842
Marshall171110
Madison14307
Lee138437
Shelby128423
Morgan11025
Walker93924
Elmore92514
Franklin89514
Dallas8809
Baldwin8649
Etowah73913
DeKalb7195
Butler63328
Chambers62927
Autauga60712
Tallapoosa59169
Russell5520
Unassigned50323
Houston4964
Limestone4950
Lauderdale4906
Lowndes47221
Cullman4524
Pike4295
Colbert3956
St. Clair3822
Coffee3772
Bullock36910
Covington3587
Calhoun3545
Escambia3506
Barbour3492
Hale31121
Talladega3097
Marengo30211
Wilcox2918
Dale2880
Sumter28512
Clarke2746
Jackson2732
Winston2583
Chilton2462
Blount2351
Monroe2352
Pickens2356
Marion22413
Conecuh2097
Randolph2069
Choctaw19512
Macon1949
Bibb1901
Greene1868
Perry1771
Henry1343
Crenshaw1253
Washington1097
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Cherokee977
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Lamar771
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Clay652
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