A slimmed-down field of six Democratic contenders debated in Des Moines on Tuesday night—but despite the high stakes in the final debate before the Feb. 3 caucuses, the candidates largely refrained from attacking each other and focused on the issues, especially foreign policy and health care. Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, and Elizabeth Warren took part in the CNN/Des Moines Register debate and analysts say there wasn't a great deal to sway floating voters, making it a good night for the four frontrunners, but not for Klobuchar and Steyer, who failed to score any breakout moments. Some takeaways:
- Warren, Sanders defuse tensions. Warren and Sanders dealt with the controversy over his alleged remark about a woman being unable to win in 2020 in a way that landed them both in the winners' column at the Washington Post. Warren said she wasn't there to "fight with Bernie," but made a strong case for choosing a female nominee. "The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women: Amy and me," she said. Sanders noted that he said decades ago that a woman could win the presidency, and said conflict between him and Warren "is what Donald Trump and maybe some of the media want." Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, who considers Warren the winner of a debate that "wasn't a game-changer," says she "probably got the better of Sanders on the exchange."
- Big night for Bernie. Most analysts say Sanders had a strong night—possibly strong enough to propel him to an Iowa win. "Sanders had a great night," according to Vox. "He solidly owned discussions of health care and climate change, and he solidified his status, recently regained from Warren, as the leading voice of the party’s left."
- Mixed reviews for Buttigieg. Buttigieg had a reasonably good night, with strong answers on health care and foreign policy—but analysts say it might not be enough for him to regain momentum. "One problem for Buttigieg is that he was marginal for much of Tuesday’s debate, with the spotlight being grabbed by the three other big-name candidates," writes Niall Stanage at the Hill. "He also did himself no favors by his penchant for rather vague or platitudinous answers." Stanage also notes that Klobuchar was "steady" but "also unspectacular."
- No knockout blows for Biden. This wasn't the strongest debate performance from Biden, the frontrunner in most national polls, but "he left the debate unbruised," making him the winner by default, according to David Siders at Politico. Biden "often stayed in his comfort zones—discussing foreign policy and health care—and he was not the center of the kind of memorable exchanges that had dealt his campaign blows earlier in the race," Reid Epstein and Katie Glueck write at the New York Times.
- Foreign policy at the forefront. This was the "first debate to start with foreign affairs, and as is true on a lot of other issues quickly became a progressive-versus-moderate tussle," with Warren and Sanders opposing Biden and Buttigieg, writes Domenico Montanaro at NPR. Warren said that as commander-in-chief, she would fight the "revolving door" between defense industry contractors and the Pentagon.
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