Candidates Clash Over High-Dollar Fundraisers, Relative Experience, Ability to Win

South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Mass., during Thursday’s debate in Los Angeles. (Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

( – Thursday night’s Democrat presidential debate turned heated at times, as candidates attacked each other over campaign donations, relative experience and wealth, while recent comments by President Obama about “old men” in politics also brought some lively responses from the three septuagenarians on the stage.

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg came under fire from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) over high-dollar fundraisers, and from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) over comparative experience, and in both cases hit back hard.

But first, candidates were asked about Obama’s recent comment that, “If you look at the world and look at the problems it’s usually old people, usually old men, not getting out of the way.”

Invited to respond, Sen. Bernie Sanders, 79, acknowledged he was the oldest of the seven candidates on stage – adding, “and I’m white as well!” before answering the question.

“I got a lot of respect for Barack Obama, but I think I disagree with him on this one,” he said. “It may be a little self-serving, but I do disagree.”

Sanders went on to say the problem wasn’t one of age or gender, touting the need for working people to stand up and take on “the billionaire class.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden, 77, said he would guess that Obama “wasn’t talking about me.”

“I’m running because I’ve been around, on my experience, because with experience hopefully comes judgment and a little bit of wisdom.”

If elected next November, Biden would turn 82 at the end of his first term. Asked whether he would commit to running for a second term, he demurred.

“No, I’m not willing to commit one way or another. Here’s the deal, I’m not even elected to one term yet, and let’s see where we are, let’s see what happens.”

Moderator Tim Alberta of Politico noted that Warren, now 70, would be the oldest president ever inaugurated, should she win the 2020 election.

“I’d also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated,” she retorted.

The gloves came off when Warren raised Buttigieg’s recent fundraiser in a “wine cave” in Napa, California.

“We made the decision many years ago that rich people in smoke-filled rooms would not pick the next president of the United States,” she said. “Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States.”

Buttigieg shot back that he was the only candidate on stage who isn’t a millionaire or billionaire.

He charged that Warren’s presidential campaign is being funded partly by money which she had raised at “big-ticket fundraisers” during previous election campaigns.

“This is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass.”

Democrats could not afford to reject any donor, he argued, when they were in “the fight of our lives” against President Trump.

‘A gay dude in Mike Pence’s Indiana’

Klobuchar jumped in to reprimand Warren and Buttigieg for infighting – but then minutes later herself accused Buttigieg of disrespecting the experience of the three senators and former vice president on stage.

“I have not denigrated your experience as a local official – I have been one – I just think you should respect our experience when you look at how you evaluate someone who can get things done,” she said.

Klobuchar also suggested Buttigieg could not bring together a coalition of moderate Republicans, independents and Democrats needed, adding, “I have done it three times. I think winning matters.”

“Senator, I know that if you just go by vote totals, maybe what goes on in my city seems small to you,” Buttigieg said. “If you want to talk about the capacity to win, try putting together a coalition to bring you back to office with 80 percent of the vote as a gay dude in Mike Pence’s Indiana.”

Klobuchar’s comeback, however, referred to a different election result – Buttigieg’s unsuccessful race to become Indiana’s state treasurer in 2010. (He won the South Bend mayoralty in 2011, and was re-elected in 2015.)

“If you had won in Indiana, that would be one thing,” she said. “You tried, and you lost by 20 points.”

As the debate drew to a close, PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff asked all seven presidential hopefuls – “in the spirit of the season” – if there was something they would ask forgiveness for from a fellow candidate.

Buttigieg said that the moment the Democrats have a presidential nominee, those who have been unsuccessful are going to have to rally around that person.

“Let’s make sure there’s not too much to ask forgiveness for by the time that day comes.”


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