MANCHESTER, N.H. (CN) – In the final debate before the New Hampshire primary, held Friday night at St. Anselm College, six of the contenders for the Democratic nomination spent more time contrasting themselves with President Trump than each other.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang took the stage.
Coming into the debate, Sanders was regarded as the national front-runner, with Buttigieg on his heels after strong performances from both in the Feb. 3 Iowa Caucus. Buttigieg and Sanders virtually tied with the former mayor of South Bend, eking out one more delegate than the Vermont senator.
Biden, who has long dominated national polling, finished in fourth place. He opened the debate arguing that there was still a long way to go before the nomination was secured.
“I took a hit in Iowa and I’ll probably take a hit here,” he said. “I’ve always viewed the first four contests as the starting point.”
The debate then turned to Sanders and the fact he identifies as a Democratic Socialist. Each candidate took turns explaining that defeating President Donald Trump in November would require attracting moderate voters that might otherwise be turned off by leftist policies.
“The only way that we’re going to beat him is to get turnout from across the spectrum voters,” Klobuchar said. Steyer echoed the sentiment.
Buttigieg and Yang both challenged the concept of capitalism-versus-socialism, while Warren, who has said she is a capitalist, avoided contrasting herself with Sanders.
“The way you bring people together is by presenting a plan that works for working people,” Sanders said.
The candidates further contrasted themselves with Sanders by attacking his “Medicare for All” plan as too expensive and too difficult to pass.
“How much is it going to cost? It would cost more than the entire federal budget,” Biden said.
While Buttigieg argued that the American people are eager for a candidate that was not a “Washington insider,” the other candidates with experience on the U.S. Senate floor argued otherwise.
“We have a newcomer in the White House and look what that got us,” quipped Klobuchar. “We need someone with experience.”
Without attacking any of his rival’s healthcare proposals, Steyer argued that electability will require emphasis of other issues.
“We’re going to have to take Mr. Trump down on the economy,” Steyer said. “It’s not about who has the best healthcare plan. Everyone here has a good health plan.”
All candidates argued in favor of improving diplomacy in order to avoid military conflict overseas and attacked Trump’s actions in the Middle East.
“We need someone who pays attention and some who evaluates intelligence,” Buttigieg said.
The candidates also attacked Trump for alienating many of the United States’ allies with petty attacks.
“He blames the [Canadian] prime minister for cutting him out of the Canadian version of Home Alone 2,” Klobuchar said. “Who does that?”
The candidates all agreed that drug decriminalization should also come with an increase in funding for substance abuse treatment.
Although he supports drug decriminalization, the moderator challenged Buttigieg for the increase in marijuana arrests among black people in South Bend while he was mayor.
Buttigieg said that he decreased the overall number of marijuana arrests, but the moderator noted that the actual number of black people arrested increased.
The candidates also agreed on using Roe v. Wade as a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees.
“We all have a litmus test,” Steyer said. “Everybody on this row feels the same way about a woman’s right to choose.”
Michael Bloomberg was not part of the debate and failed to register as a candidate for New Hampshire’s primary before the deadline.
Despite his absence, the moderators gave the candidates on stage a chance to criticize the former New York mayor, who has already spent over $200 million on advertising for his self-funded campaign.
“I don’t think anyone should be able to buy their way into the nomination and then into the White House,” Warren said, who also hit her rivals for accepting large donations and money from PACs.
Warren and Sanders have been outspoken about their campaigns being fueled by small donors, while Biden and Buttigieg have opted to not swear off PAC money.
“We are going into the fight of our lives,” said Buttigieg. “We’re going to need everything we can get. This is a time for addition, not exclusion.”
In the hours before the event, supporters for each candidate endured the snow and freezing temperature along the main road outside St. Anselm College.
Each candidate had a few dozen supporters trading chants and drawing the occasional honk from cars passing by.
Peggy Werns came from New York City to show her support for Yang.
“Yang is a passion for us,” she said. “I’m doing this for my kids.”
Momo Liu, who was out to support Warren, was excited to see how the Massachusetts senator would perform on the debate stage.
“She always shows up for the debate,” she said. “She’s quick on her feet.”
Clare Upton came from Southern California to show her support for Buttigieg, focusing on his positivity.
“I think he’s going to do well,” she said.
The next Democratic debate is scheduled for Feb. 19 in Las Vegas, Nevada.