The first democratic debate of 2020 — which was the seventh in the primary cycle and the last before the Iowa Caucus — was held on Tuesday, Jan. 14 at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. CNN co-hosted the event with The Des Moines Register. The moderators were Wolf Blitzer and Abby Philip of CNN, and the Des Moines Register’s chief politics reporter Brianne Pfannenstiel.
This debate was critical for the candidates as it was their final chance to distinguish themselves from the rest of the field before the Iowa caucus on Feb. 3. Voters of the Hawkeye State will be the ones tasked to assign the first 41 pledged delegates of this primary contest.
Leading up to the debate, many conversations were centered around the lack of racial diversity on stage, as all six candidates were white. Andrew Yang, who was the only candidate of color at the December debate, barely missed this one as he only needed two more qualifying polls. The former tech entrepreneur claims that the lack of polling since the last debate contributed to his absence this time around. His campaign chief, Nick Ryan, spoke on the matter and said, “If the DNC had only done their due diligence and commissioned polls in the early states, Andrew Yang would certainly be on the debate stage…”
Another candidate of color, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, suspended his campaign Monday, Jan. 13 and although he was also frustrated that he would not be part of this debate, he gave a different reason for his absence. He believes that billionaires like Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg are buying their way onto the stage or flooding television networks with their ads.
According to The New York Times, Bloomberg’s campaign said that it had secured a 60-second ad to be shown during the Super Bowl next month that cost roughly 10 million dollars. The former New York City Mayor was not on stage because he is completely self-funding his campaign and therefore does not meet the donor requirements, but on some national polls he more than doubles Booker’s support. The senator’s campaign could not compete in terms of funding as he has only spent $292,000 on television ads, while Steyer has spent over 116 million.
The week before the debate, new polling came out from Iowa favoring Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. A Des Moines Register/CNN poll conducted in the first week of January showed that Sanders was at 20 percent, beating second-place competitor Warren by three percent. This is no surprise, as in the same poll, a majority of the people who were “likely democratic caucus-goers” also responded that health care was the issue most important to them. Sanders has made health care a central point of his campaign with his Medicare for All proposal.
With President Trump ordering the assassination of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani on Jan. 3, foreign affairs were set to be a headline topic at this debate. The first question, which was asked to all of the candidates, was about what qualified each of them to be Commander in Chief.
Senator Sanders answered by continuing to tout his voting record and opposition to the Iraq War. He then added that he got republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah to co-sponsor his resolution to end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. He ended by saying, “What we have to face as a nation is that the two great foreign policy disasters of our lifetimes were the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq. Both of those wars were based on lies.”
On Iran, Biden said that Europe is making a moral equivalence between the U.S. and Iran because of losing our standing in the region and that America needs to reestablish its alliances.
Steyer added by saying, “There is no real strategy that we are trying to accomplish in the middle east.” He also drew attention to the wildfires in Australia saying that it also deserves coalition support.
In recent days, tensions had risen between the campaigns of Senator’s Warren and Sanders. Sanders’ team had been accused of deploying attacking points against Warren in early voting states, primarily going after her appeal and electability. The campaign later pulled back the script and Sanders said it was because it was “sloppily worded.” Unease continued as CNN reported on Monday that in a private conversation between the two Senators, Sanders had said that a woman could not win the presidential election. Warren went on CNN that same day and did not refute the story.
The moderators brought up what Bernie said about a female president at the debate and asked Sanders to verify the happening. He negated ever voicing that and said, “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.” He then rounded out his point by bringing up that it’s clear to anyone that this country can have a female president after seeing Hillary Clinton win the popular vote by nearly three million.
Warren came back making the point that the three male politicians on stage have lost 10 elections combined while she and Amy have won every election they have sought. For reference, Warren has only been an elected official since 2013 and has never sought the presidency before while Biden and Sanders have been in political life for decades and have run for President in the past.
Abby Phillips attacked Sanders for not releasing the price of his healthcare proposal and was asked how he would keep his plans from bankrupting America. Sanders answered by voicing that under the current system health care costs Americans twice more per capita than other countries with a single-payer system and the American system does not cover everyone. Klobuchar jumped in to bring up the lack of support for Medicare for All bill among many congressional Democrats and said, “I think you should show how you are going to pay for things, Bernie.”
Warren tried to finalize the argument around the cost of Medicare for All because she said the more moderate plans of Mayor Pete and Biden cost less because they do not do as much for the American people. Klobuchar reminded the public that Warren has moderated her stance on healthcare because when she released her healthcare plan she said that she would not institute Medicare for All until her third year in office.
Abby Phillips asked Mayor Pete about his support amongst black voters. With the fact that the mayor has been running for a year now she asked, “Is it possible that black voters have gotten to know you and have simply decided to choose another candidate?” Buttigieg touted his support from Anthony G. Brown, a member of the Black Congressional Caucus, and the African-American Mayor of Waterloo Iowa, Quentin Hart. He received both endorsements only days before the debate.
The debate ended after the candidates gave their closing statements and that will be the last taste Iowa voters will have of the candidates before their caucus. With the House of Representatives sending the Articles of Impeachment over to the Senate, there will be a trial which will have Sanders, Warren, and Klobuchar as jurors, keeping them off of the campaign trail. The next debate is scheduled for Feb. 7 and will take place in Manchester, New Hampshire ahead of the Granite State’s primary on Feb. 11.