Updated Feb 8, 2020 - Politics & Policy

What to watch for at tonight's Democratic debate

Candidates at the last Democratic debate in Iowa. Photo: Robyn Beck/Getty Images

The biggest story heading into New Hampshire is Pete Buttigieg's meteoric rise, which has the potential to shift the dynamics of the primary field and is rattling his rivals to his left and right.

The state of play: Following his strong showing in Iowa, Buttigieg jumped 12 percentage points in a New Hampshire poll between Monday (the day of the Iowa caucus) and Thursday, and his opponents are saying his name more regularly in their stump speeches throughout the state.

  • Bernie Sanders — the other candidate who claimed victory in the Iowa caucuses despite all of the problems with the vote count — went after Buttigieg at Saint Anslem College and on Twitter Friday for courting billionaire donors.
  • The polling coming out of New Hampshire, together with the still-incomplete Iowa results, shows that Buttigieg is now neck-and-neck with Sanders in two of the most crucial early voting states.

Why it matters: There will be seven Democrats on stage tonight at Saint Anselm College fighting to stay in the race and capture voters' hearts days before Tuesday's primary. With so much attention on Buttigieg, it'll be hard for the lower-tier candidates to break through this late in the game.

What they're saying: At a Politics and Eggs breakfast this morning, Sanders read a list of headlines to attendees that focused on Buttigieg's support from billionaires.

  • Sanders went on to say: “I like Pete Buttigieg. But we are in a moment where billionaires control not only our economy but our political [system].”
  • Buttigieg and Sanders will be standing next to each other tonight, with Joe Biden standing between Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Biden — who came in fourth in Iowa — will try to paint "a really clear contrast" with both Sanders and Buttigieg tonight, a senior campaign aide said in a phone call with reporters. The campaign said they still consider health care and electability to be Biden's two biggest issues.

  • Biden went after Buttigieg's perceived lack of experience to a group of voters in New Hampshire earlier this week. “I’ve great respect for Mayor Pete and his service to this nation but I believe it’s a risk — to be straight up with you — for this party to nominate someone who’s never held office higher than mayor of a town of 100,000 in Indiana. I do believe it’s a risk,” Biden said.

Tom Steyer will be there tonight, too, and he's already gone after Buttigieg since barely registering in the Iowa caucus.

  • During his CNN town hall earlier this week, Steyer specifically called out Buttigieg's lack of support among black voters.
  • In a new ad released by his campaign this week, the narrator says — over clips of Buttigieg — that Democrats can't nominate "an untested newcomer who doesn't have the experience to beat Trump on the economy."

The bottom line: Iowa may have been a mess, but it put a big target on Buttigieg's back and wind in his sails as he hopes for a similar showing in the Granite State.

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