Buttigieg in hot seat at 1st debate after strong showing in Iowa

Democratic presidential candidates (from left) Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, greet one another before the start of a Democratic presidential primary debate in the Sullivan Arena at St. Anselm College on Feb. 7, 2020, in Manchester, New Hampshire. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

(CNN) — After his strong showing in Iowa, Pete Buttigieg quickly came under fire Friday night from his Democratic rivals, who vigorously questioned his experience and readiness for the White House.

Former Vice President Joe Biden made the first punch, using a line that he has been making for more than a month on the trail: that this year is not the time to take a risk on a political novice.

Buttigieg, he said, “is a great guy and a real patriot, but he’s a mayor of a small city who has done some good things.” He said Buttigieg had not demonstrated the ability to get broad “support across the spectrum, including African Americans and Latinos.”

But the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor described the race against President Donald Trump as a new moment in American politics, one that required a new style of leadership that he said he could offer.

“This is a moment where the next president is going to face challenges,the likes of which we hadn’t even thought of a few years, or decades, ago and politically, we’re facing a fundamentally new problem with President Donald Trump,” Buttigieg said.

He added that it would be the wrong move for voters to choose a nominee who “is dividing people with the politics that says if you don’t go all the way to the edge it doesn’t count.”

“Are you talking about Sen. Sanders?” the moderator asked.

“Yes,” Buttigieg replied. “Because we’ve got to bring as many people as we can into this process.”

It was Buttigieg’s first shot at the Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders after he had turned on his younger rival earlier Friday, seeking to paint him as the candidate of the elite.

“Buttigieg has received campaign contributions from over 40 billionaires, from the CEOs of the largest drug companies in this country, from fossil fuel (financiers), from Wall Street,” Sanders said in an interview with CNN. “Do you think that when people receive money from powerful special interests that they’re really going to stand up to those special interests and do what has to be done for the working class in this country? I don’t think so. It doesn’t work that way.”

Sanders’ attack was sharp and direct — underscoring that the race is about to take a much more aggressive turn as the candidates look not only to Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire, but also to the upcoming contests in Nevada, South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states.

A new poll out from NBC News and Marist in New Hampshire, which was conducted after the Iowa caucuses, found Sanders topping the field in the Granite State with 25%, closely followed by Buttigieg at 21%. Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren were tied in a distant third place and no one else rose above single digits.

Though he and Sanders were nearly tied in the long-delayed results released by the Iowa Democratic Party, Buttigieg appears to be benefiting from a much stronger-than-expected finish in the Hawkeye State.

Buttigieg was the natural target in Friday’s debate and his opponents focused on his inexperience. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, argued she too was a fresh face on the stage and that “59, my age, is the new 38,” a reference to Buttigieg’s age.

She forcefully argued that he was not taking weighty matters like impeachment seriously enough.

“Three of us were jurors in that impeachment hearing. You said it was exhausting to watch, and that you wanted to turn the channel and watch cartoons,” Klobuchar said. “It is easy to go after Washington, because that’s a popular thing to do. … It is much harder to lead, and much harder to take those difficult positions.”

She faulted him for going after Washington “because it’s popular to say, and makes you look like a cool newcomer,” Klobuchar said. “I don’t think that’s what people want right now. We have a newcomer in the White House, and look where it got us.”

Biden touts foreign policy experience but fends off Iraq War criticism

Buttigieg, Biden and Sanders once again tangled over the former vice president’s vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq when he was a senator from Delaware.

“I believe that I have the judgment to help us get through these situations,” Buttigieg said. “Obviously, the vice president made the wrong decision when it came to such an important moment in our foreign policy. … We’ve got to recognize just how much is going to be on the plate of the next president that is different in kind from what we have faced before. It’s not just about dealing with the aftermath of the war in Iraq, it’s about preventing a war with Iran.”

Biden responded that his vote on the Iraq War was a mistake and repeated a false account of his support for the war.

“I said 14 years ago I trusted (President) George (W.) Bush to keep his word. He said he was not going to go into Iraq. He said he was only using this to unite the United Nations, to insist we get inspectors” into Iraq, Biden said.

Biden noted that once he and President Barack Obama took office, “the President turned to me with the entire security apparatus, and said, ‘Joe, I want you to organize getting 156,000 troops out of Iraq.’ “

He touted his relationships with leaders around the world, noting he had taken part in major achievements including the Paris climate accord.

“I know every one of these world leaders by the first names,” Biden said. “They call me; I talk to them; and I believe I can get it done.”

In an impassioned moment, Biden urged the audience to stand and applaud Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council who testified during the impeachment hearings. Trump fired Vindman earlier on Friday.

“I think we should all stand now and give Colonel Vindman a show of support,” Biden said, throwing his hands above the podium. “Get up there!”

Some in the audience stood up and cheered as Biden egged them on. He also said that Trump “should be pinning a medal on Vindman, and not Rush Limbaugh.”

Trump awarded Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom this week during the State of the Union address, after Limbaugh had announced that he had advanced lung cancer.

Debating if voters will ‘like’ Sanders

The moderators also asked the Democratic contenders about Sanders’ electability — specifically the recent comments by his 2016 rival Hillary Clinton.

Clinton told the Hollywood Reporter that “nobody likes” Sanders and “nobody wants to work with him.” In that interview, Clinton added that Sanders “got nothing done. He was a career politician.”

On stage, Klobuchar defended Sanders.

“I like Bernie just fine,” she said to laughter.

She noted that they had worked on a number of pieces of legislation together, including lowering the price of pharmaceutical drugs — pointing out that they got 14 Republican votes.

“I think that it is just an example of what we need to do here,” Klobuchar said. “We must unite, but the way that we unite is by having an optimistic economic agenda for America.”

Sanders defended his electability by noting that he won 25% of the Republicans in his state. He noted that Republicans care about some of his big priorities, including protecting civil liberties and the high cost of prescription drugs.

“There are ways that we can work with Republicans on issues where we have a common basis,” Sanders said.

He dismissed Clinton’s comments by stating it was time to move beyond the 2016 election.

“Our job is to look forward,” he said. “I hope that Secretary Clinton, and all of us can come together and move in that direction.”

Figuring out if a progressive or a centrist can beat Trump

The Democratic presidential candidates touched off their final debate in New Hampshire debating whether a progressive like Sanders, who identifies as a democratic socialist, could actually defeat President Donald Trump in November.

At the ABC debate, moderator George Stephanopoulos posed the first question about Sanders’ electability to former Vice President Joe Biden, who has said Trump would use Sanders’ socialist background as a weapon against him.

“The President wants very much to stick a label on every candidate. We don’t only have to win this time, we have to bring along the rest of the United States Senate,” Biden said. “Bernie’s labeled himself not me.”

When Sanders was asked why Democrats shouldn’t be worried about the labels that Trump would use against him, he argued that he would be able to bring people together and bring new voters into the process.

“I believe that the way we beat Trump is by having the largest voter turnout in the history of this country,” Sanders said. “That is appealing to working class people who have given up on the political process, because they don’t believe anybody is hearing their pain, perceiving that pain, feeling their pain, and we got to bring young people into the political process.”

But when asked whether others on the stage were worried about the fate of their party should it be led by a democratic socialist, other Democrats raised their hand.

“Bernie and I work together all the time, but I think we are not going to be able to out divide the divider-in-chief,” said Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. “Donald Trump’s worst nightmare is a candidate that will bring people in, from the middle, the people that are tired of the noise and the nonsense,” she said.

Biden later circled back to a critique of Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan, accusing him of refusing to tell the American people what the real cost of the plan would be. He argued that plan would be an albatross in a race against Trump.

“How much is it going to cost? Who’s going to pay for it? It will cost more than the entire, the entire federal budget we spend now, more than entire budget,” Biden said. “The idea middle class taxes aren’t going to go up, is just crazy.”

This is a breaking story and will be updated.