Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s recent rise in the polls made her the new target for attacks from the crowded field at Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate.
Warren stepped into her role as the woman to beat in the debate, which was hosted by CNN and The New York Times at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.
“If all Democrats can promise is after Donald Trump it will be business as usual, then we will lose,” Warren said. “Democrats win when we call out what’s broken and we show how to fix it. Democrats will win when we fight for the things that touch people’s lives, things like childcare and health care and housing costs. Democrats will win when we give people a reason to get in the fight.”
Warren has seen a sharp and steady rise in national polls after the Sept. 12 debate and even passed former Vice President Joe Biden before dipping back down, according to RealClearPolitics’ average of more than 100 polls.
She dominated the competition for exposure during the debate, with more than 20 minutes of talking time — five minutes longer than runner-up Biden and seven minutes longer than third-place Sen. Amy Klobuchar, according to a New York Times analysis.
Warren took on attacks from most of her opponents, but the most notable was from Biden over her role in the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“I got votes for that bill,” he said. “I convinced people to vote for it, so let’s get those things straight too.”
Warren responded slowly and deliberately.
“I am deeply grateful to President Obama, who fought so hard to make sure that agency was passed into law, and I am deeply grateful to every single person who fought for it and who helped pass it into law,” Warren said.
The age of the frontrunners was brought into question. Warren and Biden both defended their fitness. Biden said his age and experience are what make him the best candidate.
“With it comes wisdom,” Biden said. “We need someone to take office this time around who on day one can stand on the world stage, command the respect of world leaders, from Putin to our allies, and know exactly what has to be done to get this country back on track.”
Warren countered that she alone has the energy and tenacity to confront the election challenges ahead.
“I will out-work, out-organize, and outlast anyone, and that includes Donald Trump, Mike Pence or whoever the Republicans get stuck with,” she said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had a heart attack just two weeks ago, addressed concerns about his fitness for the office. Before a moderator could ask him about it, he said, “I’m healthy. I’m feeling great.”
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, was aggressive throughout the night, trying to establish himself as a strong moderate. He went after Warren on health care, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke on his proposed gun policy and stood out on foreign policy.
When asked about the cost of her health care plan, Warren said she would “not sign a bill into law directly if that does not lower costs for middle-class families.”
Buttiegieg called this a nonanswer to a yes or no question.
“No plan has been laid out to explain how a multi-trillion-dollar hole in this Medicare-for-all plan that Sen. Warren is putting forward is supposed to get filled in,” Buttigieg said. “We really can deliver health care for every American and move forward with the boldest, biggest transformation since the inception of Medicare itself.”
Moderators asked O’Rourke how his plan to buy back assault rifles from gun owners would work. He said he would not use police force and instead rely on Americans’ participation.
“I expect my fellow Americans to follow the law, the same way that we enforce any provision, any law that we have right now,” O’Rourke said.
Buttigieg said that O’Rourke did not have a clear plan, and the time for action is now.
“Look, Congressman, you just made it clear that you don’t know how this is actually going to take weapons off the streets. If you can develop the plan further, I think we can have a debate about it. But we can’t wait. People are dying in the streets right now,” Buttigieg said.
O’Rourke said despite the lack of support for gun buybacks, it is the right thing to do.
“I don’t need lessons from you on courage, political or personal,” Buttigieg replied. “Everyone on this stage is determined to get something done. Everyone on this stage recognizes, or at least I thought we did, that the problem is not other Democrats who don’t agree with your particular idea of how to handle this.”
On the issue of foreign policy, Buttigieg referenced his military background and sparred with fellow veteran Rep.Tulsi Gabbard.
Gabbard challenged Buttigieg on his support of continued American involvement in Syria.
“You would continue this policy of the U.S. actually providing arms in support to terrorist groups in Syria, like Al Qaeda, HTS, al-Nusra and others, because they are the ones who have been the ground force in this regime change war?” Gabbard said.
Buttigieg said U.S. involvement in Syria was part of a promise to local forces that allied with the U.S. military.
“When I was deployed, not just the Afghan National Army forces, but the janitors put their lives on the line just by working with U.S. forces,” Buttigieg said. “I would have a hard time today looking an Afghan civilian or soldier in the eye after what just happened over there. And it is undermining the honor of our soldiers.”