Wednesday, February 19, 2020 06:47:16 PM
AFP, Manchester :
Democratic hopefuls fanned out across snowy New Hampshire on Saturday campaigning for the state's primary, stop two on the road to picking a challenger to President Donald Trump in November.
The burst of glad-handing ahead of Tuesday's vote in the small, predominantly white northeast state came with leftist Senator Bernie Sanders and 38-year-old moderate Pete Buttigieg having emerged in a dead heat atop the field in the messy Iowa caucus.
And in line with their position as frontrunners, both came under sustained attack from their rivals at a feisty debate on Friday night.
Sanders, 78, was challenged over his age and record on guns, while Buttigieg - the former mayor of a Midwestern town of 100,000 - was depicted as too young and inexperienced to take on Trump.
When it was all over, none of the seven candidates on the stage was seen as having scored a knockout punch or made any serious mistake.
Buttigieg, a political nobody at the national level a year ago but now a force to be reckoned with, seemed to revel in his new status.
"(We are) in the last days of an unbelievably consequential and important election, which will define not only who is in the White House for the next four years but what it's like to be an American for the next four years," he told supporters in Keene on Saturday.
"I am the candidate that is prepared to defeat Donald Trump."
Sanders, a veteran senator calling for "political revolution," found himself in the firing line from former vice president and fellow septuagenarian Joe Biden, who branded his policies too radical to unite Americans.
The 77-year-old Biden, fighting to keep his White House hopes alive after finishing an unnerving fourth in Iowa, insisted that liberal policies like Sanders's flagship universal health care plan would be too divisive, expensive and difficult to get through Congress.
"The middle class is going to pay for it," he said of Sanders's "Medicare for All" bill, estimated to cost tens of trillions of dollars.
Despite the Iowa setback, Biden made plain he still views himself as best-placed to mount a centrist challenge to the Republican Trump, who this week survived an impeachment trial that did little to dent his electoral support.
"I've lost a lot in my lifetime," he said at a campaign event in Manchester, referring to the deaths of his wife and daughter in a car accident and losing son Beau to cancer.
"But I'll be damned if I'm going to stand by and lose my country too!"
Biden declared, to raucous applause.
He has adopted an aggressive stance as he argues that today's global tensions require an experienced statesman to guide the nation out of a dark period.
His campaign released a video Saturday contrasting Biden's accomplishments in his decades-long political career against Buttigieg's as mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
The ad highlighted Biden's work on Obamacare and the Iran nuclear deal, while belittling Buttigieg's efforts to install decorative bridge lights and lay new sidewalks in South Bend.
Buttigieg's campaign responded that the ad "speaks more to where (Biden) currently stands in this race than it does about Pete's perspective as a mayor and veteran."
The former vice president has all but conceded defeat in New Hampshire, noting that in 2016 Sanders, who represents neighboring Vermont, won the New Hampshire primary by 20 points.
· 'Dumpster fire' -
At a Biden rally Saturday, Erin Kerry, a 49-year-old financial analyst
from neighboring Massachusetts, said she wished Biden had done better in the
debate. But she added, "I'm not ready to count him out yet."
Cameron Landry, a 24-year old-student, said he liked Biden's experience but questioned whether he had the grit to take on Trump.
"I think we need somebody with a lot of energy. I think we need somebody that can compete with the reality star. People love reality TV. It's a dumpster fire and people want to watch," Landry told AFP.
Also onstage at the Friday debate were Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Amy Klobuchar, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and billionaire activist Tom Steyer.
After New Hampshire, the candidates turn to Nevada on February 22, South Carolina on February 29 and then Super Tuesday on March 3, when 14 states vote.
Also in the race is billionaire and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is surging in the polls after spending a record $260 million of his personal fortune on his campaign.
He is skipping the first four nominating contests, focusing instead of Super Tuesday.
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