Democratic presidential contenders asked in a debate on Friday whether the views of progressive Bernie Sanders would be too far to the left to attract the voters needed to beat Republican Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election.
The candidates said Sanders, a self-identified democratic socialist who finished in a dead heat in the first contest in Iowa earlier this week with Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was out of step with everyday Americans.
"Donald Trump’s worst nightmare is a candidate who will bring people in from the middle," U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar said at the eighth Democratic debate, four days before New Hampshire's pivotal primary.
"I think we need someone to head up this ticket that actually brings people with her instead of shutting them out," she said of Sanders.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, reeling from a disappointing fourth-place finish in Iowa, said Trump would have a handy label for Sanders, 78, a leader in the party's progressive wing.
"Bernie has labeled himself, not me, a democratic socialist. I think that’s the label that the president is going to lay on everyone running with Bernie if he is the nominee," Biden said.
Sanders, who has called for a political revolution that will attract new voters, said "the way to beat Trump is by having the largest voter turnout in the history of this country."
He said he could appeal to working-class voters who have given up on the political process "because they don’t believe anybody is hearing their pain, perceiving their pain, feeling their pain. And we’ve got to bring young people into the political process."
Historically, candidates who win the Iowa caucuses see a boost in New Hampshire, and two opinion polls released this week showed Buttigieg, 38, within striking distance of Sanders, who has consistently been atop the field in the state.
But with controversy surrounding the Iowa results, New Hampshire's primary on Tuesday takes on added importance in the race for the Democratic nomination.
After the performance in Iowa, Biden's campaign on Friday said that Anita Dunn, a longtime Democratic strategist and former White House aide to President Barack Obama, would assume a larger leadership role within the campaign.
Aides to Biden downplayed the move, noting that Dunn has been advising the campaign all along.
"This is not a reshuffling," one aide said. "This is giving her a slightly broader portfolio."
Also onstage at St. Anselm College in Manchester were California billionaire Tom Steyer and businessman Andrew Yang, who qualified for the debate after missing the earlier one in Iowa.
Notably absent was Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire former New York mayor, who is not competing in New Hampshire but has been assembling a formidable campaign operation in later voting states. Although Bloomberg has been ascending in national polls, he has been funding his own campaign and not taking donations, so he failed to meet the donations criteria for the debate.
(Reporting by James Oliphant; Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Caroline Stauffer, Peter Cooney and Sonya Hepinstall)
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