LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The Democratic U.S. presidential hopefuls head back to the campaign trail on Friday after a debate that featured attacks on rising contender Pete Buttigieg’s lack of political experience and fundraising from wealthy donors.
With the first nominating contest in Iowa fewer then seven weeks away, the candidates are running out of time to make a move in a Democratic race that opinion polls show is still up for grabs.
At Thursday night’s debate in Los Angeles, the intensifying feud between Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and progressive U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts over transparency and fundraising burst to the surface. U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, lagging in the polls and hoping for a strong showing in Iowa to kick-start her campaign, questioned Buttigieg’s thin political resume.
The exchanges underlined the growing stakes in the unsettled Democratic race. Opinion polls show Buttigieg taking the lead in Iowa, but former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Warren fighting for the top spot in national polls in the race to pick a challenger to Republican President Donald Trump.
The debate came one day after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, setting the stage for a trial in the Republican-held Senate on whether he should be removed from office.
That could limit the campaign time for the five Democratic candidates who are U.S. senators – Warren, Sanders, Klobuchar, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado – who could be sidelined in Washington in January serving as jurors during the Senate impeachment trial.
Klobuchar said during the debate she wanted to hear testimony from top White House aides at the president’s trial.
Democrats have pressed for testimony at the trial from Trump’s top lieutenants like Mick Mulvaney, the White House acting chief of staff, and John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, but Republicans have resisted.
“If President Trump thinks he should not be impeached, he should be not scared to put forward his own witnesses,” Klobuchar said. “The president is not king in America. The law is king.”
The Democrats promised to make the case to a divided American public that Trump’s impeachment was necessary. They said his leadership had diminished the country’s stature and respect abroad.
“It’s not only in the Middle East we see the consequences of the disappearance of U.S. leadership,” Buttigieg said, noting Trump was ridiculed behind his back at a recent gathering of world leaders.
Warren questioned whether Buttigieg was beholden to his big-money donors and described a ritzy, closed-door fundraiser in a wine cave in California.
“The mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served a $900-a-bottle wine,” said Warren, who does not hold big-ticket fundraisers and has focused her campaign on fighting corruption and corporate greed.
“Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the president of the United States,” Warren said.
Buttigieg shot back that Warren had a net worth in the millions of dollars, while he was the only candidate on the stage who was not a millionaire or billionaire.
“This is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass,” he told Warren.
Most of the seven participants in Thursday’s debate will fan out around Los Angeles and Southern California on Friday or head back to Iowa, hoping to get one more spurt of attention before voters become distracted next week by the Christmas holiday.
Biden will have a morning stop at an area restaurant in Los Angeles before an afternoon fundraiser, while Sanders plans a rally and Buttigieg will hold two campaign events. Klobuchar will launch a four-day bus trip across 27 counties in Iowa, and Warren will head to Iowa over the weekend before a stop in her native Oklahoma.
Reporting by Sharon Bernstein and Ginger Gibson; Additional reporting by Tim Reid; Editing by Jonathan Oatis