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Rivals attack 'Democratic Socialist' Sanders at debate in New Hampshire

NBC News logo NBC News 2/8/2020 Allan Smith
Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders are posing for a picture: Image: US-VOTE-2020-DEMOCRATS-DEBATE © Timothy A. Clary Image: US-VOTE-2020-DEMOCRATS-DEBATE

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Friday's Democratic presidential primary debate began with former Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg piling on Bernie Sanders, expressing concern that a self-described Democratic Socialist won't be able to defeat President Donald Trump.

Asked by moderator ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos if they would be afraid of having a Democratic Socialist on top of the ticket in November, Klobuchar, D-Minn., was the only one to raise her hand.

Meanwhile, Biden opened the debate saying he would "probably" suffer an underwhelming performance in the Granite State after a 4th place showing in Iowa.

"I took a hit in Iowa, and I'll probably take a hit here," Biden said.

The candidates launched into a back-and-forth on healthcare, where Klobuchar and Biden ganged up on Sanders, claiming his Medicare for All plan was unrealistic. Klobuchar said it would never happen because a majority of Democratic senators don't back it.

Meanwhile, Buttigieg wasn't clear of incoming fire himself. Biden and Klobuchar took him on for saying that the country needs a leader who hasn't been a part of Washington politics for years.

"The politics of the past I don't think were all that bad," Biden said, before listing his past accomplishments.

"We have a newcomer in the White House, and look where it got us," Klobuchar said.

The debate features seven of the top Democratic presidential primary contenders squaring off in New Hampshire days before the state holds its crucial first-in-the-nation primary vote.

On stage are Biden, Sanders, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer. The debate is hosted by ABC News and Apple News and is being held at Saint Anselm College in Manchester.

Recent polling shows Sanders ahead in the state, followed closely by Buttigieg. Warren and Biden are further back and tied for third, according to the RealClearPolitics average of New Hampshire polls. The primary is Tuesday.

The face off, expected to run about three hours, comes after days of chaos stemming from Iowa caucus confusion as results were delayed after what organizers said was a problem with a new smartphone app built to report the totals. The state party said problems with reporting those results were partly due to "coding issues" with the app.

Although the Iowa Democratic Party has now reported 100 percent of the total, an NBC News Decision Desk review of the data found that the totals are rife with potential errors and inconsistencies that could affect the outcome of the election, and the Democratic National Committee has called for a recanvassing. As it stands, Buttigieg was reported to have finished with 26.2 percent of the state delegate equivalents while Sanders finished with 26.1 percent.

Both candidates have claimed victory.

While Buttigieg, fresh off a strong performance in the state, is likely to face incoming fire from his Democratic rivals in Friday's debate, the contest carries added weight for candidates like Biden, Warren and others who seek a strong New Hampshire finish in order to build momentum heading into Nevada, South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states over the coming weeks.

The face-off is also the first time the Democratic candidates have taken to the debate stage since President Donald Trump, who they are all running to unseat, was acquitted on impeachment charges in the Senate. Three of the candidates on Friday's stage voted to convict Trump on both abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges.


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