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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

CEDAR RAPIDS, IowaPete Buttigieg is making a notable shift in his closing appeal to Iowa voters ahead of the Feb. 3 caucuses, swinging at both frontrunners: Joe Biden is a "risk," he says, while Bernie Sanders' politics are polarizing.

Why it matters: Buttigieg's pugilistic turn reflects what the polling keeps showing: it's still a jump ball for Democrats in the nation's first nominating contest, a dogfight that could go all the way to the end.

  • Biden follows "the same Washington playbook" and recycles "the same arguments," and that won't work against Trump, Buttigieg told a Thursday town hall in Decorah.
  • Sanders is "calling for a kind of politics that says you've got to go all the way here and nothing else counts."

As sitting senators who've been stuck in Washington through President Trump's impeachment trial prepare for one last push in the Hawkeye State before Monday, here are the other rivals' closing arguments:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who hosted a tele-town hall from D.C. earlier this week, worked on this closing-argument pitch: Women are better positioned than men to win.

  • "The data shows that women have been outperforming men as candidates in competitive races ever since Donald Trump got in," she told a precinct captain from Boone, Iowa, who joined the Tuesday call.
  • "Women have been doing really well since Donald Trump was inaugurated," she said, and "2020 is not 2016."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Tuesday made a last-minute evening trip to a bar in Council Bluffs — standing-room only — where she was met by around 100 supporters.

  • She also did more than 20 TV and newspaper interviews in a span of five days last week to try to reach voters while participating in the trial.

Sen. Sanders' closing leans on the consistency of his progressive record and his grassroots movement.

  • “I am here, but I’d rather be there," Sanders told a Wednesday night rally in Iowa City, calling in from D.C. during a break from the impeachment trial.
  • To raucous cheers, he ticked off his his plans as president: Raise the minimum wage, legalize marijuana, pass his Medicare for All bill, protect women's reproductive rights, fight climate change, restrict gun access, and overhaul immigration policy.

Biden has been arguing he offers stability and will build on the Obama years, while itching for a fight with Trump over guns, health care, foreign policy, national security, morality and personality.

  • "Trump and I have already gone one round with each other on health care," Biden said of his help for down-ballot Democrats in the 2018 midterms.
  • Christie Vilsack, the wife of former Gov. Tom Vilsack, who's endorsed Biden, said he is the "rock solid" choice for Iowans in 2020.

Neither Biden nor Sanders mentioned Buttigieg or any rival Democrat in events Axios observed over the past two days.

The big picture: Some voters want the heat! There's a hunger for policy, but also a burning desire to defeat Trump.

  • Voters, volunteers, and campaign staffers said 2016 still haunts them.
  • Michael Moore, a filmmaker and Sanders' national campaign co-chair, told a rally that Hillary Clinton "refused" to go to Wisconsin in 2016 and didn't give people a reason to vote for her.

What they're saying: "I want to start hearing people really hammer on Trump because I think they've taken it too easy," said Stuart Howe, an undecided voter I met at a Biden campaign stop in Waukee.

  • "A lot of them have said they don't want this to be about Trump, but it needs to be about Trump," Howe said. "They need to get him out of office; that's the main goal."
  • A group of three women at the same event said "electability is number one" — even when compared to their issues, like climate change and health care.

Go deeper

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Democrats propose raising debt ceiling through midterms

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House and Senate leadership announced on Monday that they plan to attach a proposal to raise the debt ceiling through Dec. 2022 to a short-term, government funding bill. The bill must pass before the end of the month or Congress risks a shutdown.

Why it matters: Democrats are taking a huge risk by trying to force through an increase of the debt limit in its must-pass funding bill. The move is wishful thinking on behalf of Democrats who are hoping they can get at least 10 centrist Republicans to balk, as well as an effort to put Republicans on record opposing it.

Biden to stress U.S. does not seek new Cold War in UN speech

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

President Biden will use his first address before the UN General Assembly to lay out his vision for an era of "intensive diplomacy" with allies and "vigorous competition" with great powers — without a Cold War with China.

Why it matters: Biden will take the podium in New York on Tuesday with his own international credibility in question after the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. His administration also is struggling to build international momentum to fight climate change, the pandemic and rising global authoritarianism.

7 hours ago - Health

Biden administration to lift travel ban for fully vaccinated international travelers

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients announced on Monday that the Biden administration will allow fully vaccinated travelers from around the world to enter the U.S. beginning in November.

Why it matters: The announcement comes as President Biden seeks commitments from countries to donate vaccines to the global COVAX initiative. He is expected to host a COVID summit on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly this week, and many of the countries attending have expressed frustration with the travel ban.

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