NASHUA/PLYMOUTH, N.H. (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg traded jabs over money and message on Sunday, two days before New Hampshire voters pick their choice to take on Republican President Donald Trump in November.
The rivals, who emerged from last week’s Iowa caucuses essentially tied, offer stark alternatives for the top of the Democratic ticket. Sanders, 78, is a U.S. senator and an impassioned progressive who has spent almost three decades in Congress, while Buttigieg, 38, is a moderate military veteran who served two terms as mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
“The idea that we’ve either got to wait for a revolution or wait for the status quo leaves most of us out,” Buttigieg said at a packed middle school gymnasium in Nashua, New Hampshire, in thinly veiled references to rivals Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden. “We need a politics that brings all of us in.”
Buttigieg, who would be the nation’s first openly gay president, deflected attacks from his more well-known rivals as they jostled to dampen the momentum of a candidate who has surged in New Hampshire polls over the past few days.
Tuesday’s primary, the second in a state-by-state nominating contest, also will test the staying power of U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who finished third in Iowa, and Biden, who placed fourth. They joined the field of 11 Democratic candidates for a frantic day of campaigning ahead of the New Hampshire vote.
Here is what is happening on the campaign trail on Sunday:
Buttigieg told a crowd of 1,800 in Nashua that Democrats needs a unifying voice to take on Trump.
Sanders, speaking in Plymouth, criticized Buttigieg for taking money from “40 billionaires.”
The senator from Vermont touted his own small-dollar fundraising, saying, “Because we bring forth an agenda that doesn’t ask for approval from Wall Street, or the drug companies, our agenda is the agenda that represents working families.”
Buttigieg, who likes to note he is the least wealthy of the Democratic candidates, countered that he has never hesitated to stand up to industry.
“Bernie’s pretty rich, and I would happily accept a contribution from him,” Buttigieg said on CNN.
Brian Sterner, 59, who works in the chemical industry, said he was leaning toward Buttigieg but had concerns whether a small-city former mayor can beat Trump.
“I like his moderate political views and the fact that he’s trying to bring people together,” Sterner said while standing in line at Buttigieg’s Nashua rally. “I am concerned about his lack of experience. I do think that makes him vulnerable.”
‘DOG-FACED PONY SOLDIER’
Biden, speaking in Hampton, seemed ready to move on to other states that may be more favourable to him.
“No matter what happens in this state ... I’m going to keep moving,” Biden said in response to a question about his poor showing in Iowa.
Biden, who had fewer events scheduled Sunday than his rivals, conceded he was out-organized by Sanders and Buttigieg in Iowa. He reiterated his longstanding belief that he will perform better in states with a greater number of African Americans and other voters of colour, including upcoming contests in Nevada and South Carolina.
Democrats have complained about the outsize impact of Iowa and New Hampshire - rural states that do not represent the diversity of the party or country.
One young woman asked Biden why he performed so poorly in Iowa. He responded by asking her if she had ever caucused. When she said she had, Biden responded, “No, you haven’t. You’re a lying dog-faced pony soldier ... Now you gotta be honest. I’m going to be honest with you.”
The crowd laughed, but a video of the exchange began circulating on Twitter. Biden has used the line before, one he attributes to a John Wayne movie, “Hondo.”
Biden has been critical of the Iowa caucuses as unrepresentative of the party, saying that they skew too liberal.
‘A PLAN FOR THAT’
Warren made the rounds at Blake’s, a Manchester restaurant, posing for selfies and asking diners to tell her their No. 1 concern.
Her numerous policy proposals have led to the campaign slogan “Warren has a plan for that.” When one man mentioned the cost of prescription drugs, she explained her intention to use executive power to drop the prices of commonly used medications; another man got a quick summary of her plan to raise Social Security and Medicaid payments by $200 a month.
Katie Straw, 30, told Warren her biggest worry is her lingering student debt.
“So you know about my plan to cancel student loan debt?” Warren asked, explaining she would erase debt for 43 million Americans.
Straw later said she planned to vote for Sanders, who has proposed canceling all student loan debt.
“I really like Warren,” said Straw, an occupational therapist. “However, Bernie’s going to offer me a lot more.”
At a campaign stop in Concord, Warren told reporters that she did not intend to go negative on fellow front-runners.
“Look, we’re going to have to bring our party together in order to beat Donald Trump, and the way we do this is not by launching a bunch of attacks on each other and trying to tear each other down,” she said. “The way we do this is that we talk about the things we can run on together.”
(Reporting by James Oliphant, Joseph Ax, Jarrett Renshaw, Simon Lewis and Amanda Becker in New Hampshire and Doina Chiacu in Washington, writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Lisa Shumaker and Nick Zieminski)