On December 19 in Los Angeles, Democrats will have another debate — another boring, repetitious listing of grievances against the president, America, white people, and the rich.
Maybe not. Maybe at this debate, there are going to be real fireworks.
When you’re vying for the most powerful office on the planet and your campaign stands on the knife’s edge, you either go big or not go at all. Both Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Pete Buttigieg are competing to see who will remain standing after the first four major nominating contests: Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. The winner will almost certainly survive to compete in the Super Tuesday contests on March 3.
Yesterday, Warren went after Buttigieg by criticizing him for not naming his top contributors and keeping his fundraisers closed to the media. Buttigieg’s top campaign advisor called Warren a “corporate lawyer” and demanded decades worth of tax returns be made public.
The stakes, as Politico reports, couldn’t be much higher.
The exchanges mark a new phase of the primary, particularly for Warren’s campaign. Buttigieg, who’s cutting a center-left path through the primary, continues to rise in Iowa polling, presenting a serious challenge to Warren in a state on which both contenders have staked their candidacies. Biden can potentially afford to place lower than first in the state given his strength in South Carolina, but Iowa is close to must-win territory for Warren and Buttigieg.
So Warren, who had already absorbed some criticism from Buttigieg in previous debates without replying, finally took off the gloves and started swinging:
Still, Warren’s team has bristled at the mayor’s swipes. He has needled her with lines like “fighting is not enough and it’s a problem if fighting is all you have” — a reference to the senator’s frequent calls to arms against conservative adversaries.
But Warren seems to have reached her limit with Buttigieg. Speaking at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser Thursday night, she tried to turn Buttigieg’s “fight” critique against him, remarking that “it’s easy to give up on an idea. You can even try to make yourself sound smart and sophisticated when you do it.”
Take that, you unsophisticated Indiana farm boy!
Jeff Link, an Iowa-based Democratic consultant, said the dynamic between the two of them is in plain sight.
“They’re fighting for the top slot in Iowa, which is the center of the universe for them, and it’s crunch time,” he said. The sharpening battle is “a recognition by each campaign that the other is a threat, and we haven’t really had that before now.”
Warren has offered thinly veiled criticism of Buttigieg for his failure to name his clients when he was an executive with consulting giant McKinsey. Mayor Pete claims he is under a non-disclosure agreement that he has asked McKinsey to release him from.
But Warren has only herself to blame for the rise of Buttigieg.
On the ground, Iowa state Sen. Joe Bolkcom, who has endorsed Warren, cautioned that “the Warren campaign needs to make some adjustments in talking to Democratic voters who agree with her on health care, who agree with her on the role that money has played in corrupting politics, but who are nervous about the pace and scale of her agenda.”
“To some degree, Buttigieg has offered a more palatable message to them,” Bolkcom said, on health care and other policies, “and he’s been rewarded here for it.”
Warren’s campaign is in danger of imploding. She trails badly in Iowa and is behind Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. She has no shot in South Carolina. Only Nevada currently gives her the opportunity for a breakout win.
Of course, there are still two months to go before the Iowa caucuses and much can happen during the remaining debates that could alter the dynamic of the race.