Political News

5 takeaways from CNN's New Hampshire town halls

Posted February 6, 2020 12:45 a.m. EST

— Four Democratic presidential contenders fielded questions from New Hampshire voters Wednesday night on CNN ahead of next Tuesday's primary.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and billionaire businessman Tom Steyer each took the stage for an hour in Manchester, New Hampshire. It was the first of two nights of town halls with eight of the party's candidates.

Here are five takeaways from the first night:

Biden acknowledges weak Iowa finish

Biden acknowledged that his Iowa finish -- which, as of Wednesday night, appears on pace to be fourth place, behind former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Warren -- was a disappointment.

He also offered a frank admission of the failure of his campaign infrastructure.

"I expected to do better and I expected that our organization would perform better. But the fact is I'm happy to be here in New Hampshire," Biden said.

Still, while Iowa is a marquee state for candidates hoping to generate momentum, Biden minimized its impact, pointing out that it awards a tiny share of the overall number of delegates required to win the Democratic nomination.

Biden opens up about stuttering

Biden opened up about his lifelong struggle with stuttering, offering a rare lengthy and personal reflection on how it has affected him, even to this day.

Biden said he "still occasionally, when I find myself really tired," catches himself stuttering.

"It has nothing to do with your intelligence quotient. It has nothing to do with your intellectual makeup," Biden said. He said he thinks "part of it's confidence" and that he has to "think in terms of not rushing."

"You have to break it up, because you get so nervous," he said.

Biden pointed to the Academy Award-winning movie "The King's Speech," which is about England's King George VI working to manage his stutter, and said he uses the same method depicted in the movie to mark up his own speeches to accommodate his stutter.

"So what I do, if I say, 'The Democratic presidential town hall is tonight on CNN,' I'll say: 'The presidential town hall, slash, is on CNN tonight, slash, it's going to have the following people, slash, Anderson Cooper is going to speak, slash," Biden said.

Warren leans into her electability argument ...

Warren hammered home her electability argument, touting the breadth of her campaign's national organization and rejecting any suggestion that a male nominee would have better chance of defeating President Donald Trump in November.

Asked by a female student if she believed that a man had better odds of beating Trump, Warren laughed and said: "I believe they think so, but they would be wrong." She pointed to the anxiety that had preceded the elections of two path-breaking White House winners: John F. Kennedy, whose Catholicism was wielded against him during the 1960 election, and Barack Obama, the country's first African American president.

"Our party is better than that. And we proved that our country is better than that," Warren said. "In 2020, we can and should have a woman for president."

Warren, on the debate stage in Iowa last month and in a recent ad, has sought to reassure Democratic primary voters that she is uniquely positioned to break that barrier. At the debate, Warren pointedly noted that the women onstage -- Minnesota's Sen. Amy Klobuchar and herself -- were undefeated in their elections.

"So can a woman beat Donald Trump? Look at the men on this stage," Warren said. "Collectively, they have lost 10 elections. The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they've been in are the women: Amy and me."

... And points to her nationwide organization

Warren also made her case in the process of deflecting a question about how she figured to fare in next week's primary.

"I'm delighted to be in New Hampshire right now," she said, "but also building out all across this country. We've got 55 more states and territories (in the primary). I'm in 31 states now with a thousand (paid organizers) on the ground."

The Warren campaign has talked up its nationwide ground game throughout the campaign but put a special emphasis on it in January ahead of the Iowa caucuses, when her campaign manager, Roger Lau, released a memo that charted her path to winning the nearly 2,000 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

But there was a touch of gamesmanship in that message and in Warren's answer during the town hall.

"We expect this to be a long nomination fight and have built our campaign to sustain well past Super Tuesday and stay resilient," Lau wrote in the January memo, "no matter what breathless media narratives come when voting begins."

Warren was sitting in third place with 97% of the Iowa caucus results in. She is trailing in polls ahead of next Tuesday's primary.

Yang and Steyer knock Buttigieg after strong Iowa showing

If it wasn't clear that Buttigieg had a good showing in Iowa on Monday night, it became clear on Wednesday, when both Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer either went after the former mayor by name or took on one of his central policy ideas.

Steyer was the more aggressive of the two.

"I can put together the kind of diverse coalition that we need to have to beat Trump," Steyer argued during his town hall. "And that's something, if you look at the people who are running for president, there are people who are struggling to do that, like Pete Buttigieg."

The answer came as Steyer, who spent $17 million on ads in Iowa, attempted to explain his poor showing in the caucus state.

"We can't beat Trump unless the diverse elements, including black and brown communities, come out and show up for Democrats," Steyer said.

With 97% of precincts reporting, Buttigieg held a very narrow lead over Vermont's Sen. Bernie Sanders in Iowa.

Steyer also hit at Buttigieg during an exchange about the billionaire's business experience, suggesting that the best way to beat Trump is to take on his business career, and "you can't have a couple years in business like Pete Buttigieg" and successfully do that.

While Yang was less direct in his criticism -- he didn't name Buttigieg -- the businessman did take on one of the former mayor's key policy proposals: scrapping the Electoral College.

"Candidates who say we should abolish the Electoral College" are wrong, Yang said, "One, it would require literally like a dozen states to shoot themselves in the foot and say they don't want that kind of power anymore, which is a nonstarter."

"But two," he added, "it would end up disadvantaging rural areas, because you would just campaign in major media markets, and that's not what the framers of the Constitution intended."

The barbs from both candidates signal that Buttigieg is a rising top-tier candidate in the race.

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