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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

Debate takeaways in New Hampshire

From left, Democratic presidential candidates entrepreneur Andrew Yang,

From left, Democratic presidential candidates entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and businessman Tom Steyer stand on stage Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, before the start of a Democratic presidential primary debate. Credit: AP/Charles Krupa

Yes, it was a late Friday night for a debate, the eighth contest of an already-grueling Democratic presidential primary season. But New Hampshire’s crucial first-in-the-nation primary is in three days, and the caucus confusion in Iowa mean it’s open for the winning. 

Here are three takeaways from a snowy night at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown.

Biden, take him or leave him

Former Vice President Joe Biden skipped some of the New Hampshire campaign circuit and prepped for the debate, relying on the likes of figure skater Michelle Kwan to rally the troops in his stead. But he seemed relatively well-rested on Friday night, lowering expectations by saying he’d probably “take a hit” here in the Granite State—but just wait until South Carolina.

He half clumsily and half impressively got the studio audience to stand in honor of impeachment evidence-giver Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who had been walked out of the White House earlier Friday. 

And Biden gave as good an answer as any for why a restive party should go with a known quantity. “The politics of the past I think were not all that bad,” he said, noting his role in the Violence Against Women Act and the push for same sex marriage. Obama’s America, back again.

“It’s a long race,” Biden said at one point.

The front-runners stalk

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the leaders out of Iowa, had already sized each other up during the week of campaigning here. The former South Bend, Indiana, mayor has been striking a folksy note with crowds and talking about how Democrats do better when someone fresh and new is on the ticket. And the Vermont senator directly went after Buttigieg’s big donors during a Friday breakfast appearance just down the campus hill.

Sanders brought up that point again, while Buttigieg separated himself from a politics of “my way or the highway” that he directly associated with Sanders.

Even when they weren’t talking about each other, both were at the center of the debate as the moderators invited the other candidates to take shots at the perceived leaders.

One other contender who got some of those shots in was Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who talked about the fact that Sanders’ health care bill doesn’t have enough Senate support. She also said she’s concerned about having a Democratic Socialist at the top of the ticket. 

Warren strains for a chance

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren had weathered previous debates by batting away criticism and merrily running through her plans and biography when asked. But this time, she was less the object of others’ derision or attention. 

She got more involved in the second half of the evening, talking about her plans to help black Americans: “Let me just tell you one of the things we can do with a two cent wealth tax,” she said: cancel student loan debt for some 43 million Americans. 

It was reminiscent of an appearance she made in Derry on Thursday where a vocally pleased crowd listened to her wind her way through those famous plans. The looser, longer format benefits her. “Two or three more points,” she said at one point well into a diatribe on climate change.

On Friday night, she only got one point in during that televised wealth tax remark. Worse, it came at 9:51 p.m. By which point many New Hampshire voters may have been heading to sleep or another bar stop, leaving their political decisions for tomorrow. 

Mark Chiusano has been reporting from New Hampshire this week, as the 2020 Democratic hopefuls changed venues for the season’s first primary. Catch up on his dispatches on Instagram and here.