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Democrats Sanders, Buttigieg trade barbs

By AFP - Feb 09,2020 - Last updated at Feb 09,2020

MANCHESTER, United States — Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg carried their fight for the Democratic presidential nomination to the nation's airwaves on Sunday as they scrapped for votes with just two days to go before New Hampshire's closely-watched primary.

The 78-year-old Vermont senator and the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana came in atop the first contest in Iowa — marred by messy confusion about the result — giving each important momentum as Democrats seek a candidate to take on Donald Trump in November.

Sanders, a leftist whose state borders New Hampshire and who won there by a landslide in 2016, holds a lead in that state in four polls released Sunday, each of which had the moderate Buttigieg in second followed by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren then former vice president Joe Biden.

"I think we have an excellent chance to win," Sanders told CNN's "State of the Union," lining up political talk show appearances before a final push on the ground in the small northeastern state.

With the primary season under way in earnest, some of the earlier collegiality among Democrats has fallen away.

"I am running against a candidate, Pete Buttigieg, among others, who has raised contributions from more than 40 billionaires," Sanders told CNN. "Our support is coming from the working class of this country."

His campaign, based heavily on small donors, says it raised $25 million last month.

Buttigieg, appearing separately on CNN, turned aside the billionaire charge, quipping, "Well, Bernie's pretty rich, and I would happily accept a contribution from him."

Turning serious, the 38-year-old Indiana politician added: "This is the fight of our lives. I'm not a fan of the current campaign finance system, but I'm also insistent that we've got to go into this with all of the support we can get."

He said he was "building the movement that is going to defeat Donald Trump", boosted by donations from some 2 million people.

'Incredibly 

more difficult' 

 

Both Buttigieg and Biden — whose status as national frontrunner for the nomination was shaken by a damaging fourth-place showing in Iowa's caucuses — said it would be much harder for the party to defeat Donald Trump in November if Sanders is its flag-bearer.

Sanders' positions at the very left of the American spectrum, with expansive programmes like extending the Medicare programme to all Americans, have been eagerly seized on by Trump, who told an interviewer last week, "I think he's a communist."

Buttigieg said it would be "a lot harder" for the party to win behind Sanders than behind a more moderate candidate.

And Biden told ABC's "This Week" that "I think it's going to be incredibly more difficult" to win with Sanders, though he vowed to "work like hell for him" if the senator does win the nomination.

Sanders shrugged off the criticism that he is too radical for American voters.

"The truth is that our agenda is precisely the agenda that the overwhelming number of people want," Sanders told CNN, pointing to his enthusiastic support among young voters.

As Buttigieg has risen from practical anonymity to near the top of the Democratic heap, he has faced ever sharper criticism — including in a cutting ad aired over the weekend by the Biden camp — for his lack of national experience and his supposed difficulty connecting with black voters, a key demographic.

"He's not been able to unify the African-American community," Biden said, adding that the eventual nominee will have to perform well in states far larger and more diverse than predominantly white Iowa and New Hampshire.

Buttigieg responded on ABC that "I'll have to work to earn that vote, just as I did in South Bend. I was returned to office by a multiracial coalition."

Iowa's chaotic vote-counting has raised questions about its first-in-the-nation status. Still, the two early states make a clear mark on the campaign.

Recent history shows it is near-impossible for a Democrat to win the party's nomination without placing in the top two in one of those states. The results there begin to shape candidates' images and media narratives, just as voters nationwide are beginning to focus on the race.

Both Biden and Warren said they could be the exception to that rule.

After New Hampshire, the candidates turn to Nevada on February 22, and South Carolina on February 29, both more diverse states.

Then comes "Super Tuesday" on March 3, when 14 states vote.

Also in the race is billionaire and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has spent a record $260 million of his personal fortune on his campaign.

He is skipping the first four nominating contests, focusing instead on Super Tuesday.

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