Buttigieg fends off attacks as Dems battle for New Hampshire votes

Michael Mathes
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Democrat Pete Buttigieg has faced increasingly sharp criticism for his lack of national experience

White House hopeful Pete Buttigieg fought off intensifying attacks from his Democratic rivals Saturday as they battled for votes in New Hampshire, stop two on the road to picking a challenger to President Donald Trump.

The candidates glad-handed their way across the small, predominantly white northeast state that votes Tuesday, after the 38-year-old moderate Buttigieg and leftist Senator Bernie Sanders emerged in a dead heat atop the field in the messy Iowa caucus.

Buttigieg -- the former mayor of a Midwestern town of 100,000 -- has been widely branded by his opponents as too young and inexperienced to take on Trump, and after his Iowa finish the attacks have only sharpened.

Former vice president Joe Biden, fighting to keep his White House hopes alive after finishing an unnerving fourth in Iowa, tore into Buttigieg as they jostled for support from moderates.

Biden, 77, released a video contrasting the accomplishments of his decades-long political career against Buttigieg's as mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

The ad highlighted Biden's work on Obamacare and the Iran nuclear deal, while belittling Buttigieg's efforts to install decorative bridge lights and lay new sidewalks in South Bend.

Buttigieg's campaign responded that the ad "speaks more to where (Biden) currently stands in this race than it does about Pete's perspective as a mayor and veteran."

The former mayor, a political nobody at the national level a year ago but now a force to be reckoned with, seemed to revel in his new status.

Speaking to supporters in Keene on Saturday, Buttigieg said the election would define "what it's like to be an American for the next four years.

"I am the candidate that is prepared to defeat Donald Trump," he said.

On Sunday, Buttigieg was scheduled for what is known in Washington as the "full Ginsburg": appearances on the five major morning talk shows.

- Too divisive? -

Later on Saturday at a dinner hosted by the state Democratic Party, Buttigieg appeared to take aim at Sanders, 78, a veteran senator calling for "political revolution," who has been challenged over his age and his "Medicare for All" health plan which has been labeled as too expensive.

"With a president this divisive, we cannot risk dividing Americans further, saying you must either be for a revolution or you must be for the status quo. Let's make room for everybody in this movement," Buttigieg told thousands of attendees in a university arena, some of whom replied with jeers.

Sanders used his appearance to tamp down tensions, acknowledging to the crowd "I know there are differences of opinion in the room. I feel that. I sense that."

"I know that whoever wins the nomination, we are going to come together to defeat the most dangerous president in this country's history," he said.

Senator Amy Klobuchar -- who assailed Buttigieg as a newcomer to national politics during a Friday debate -- kept up the attacks as she rallied supporters in New Hampshire.

Despite the Iowa setback, Biden sought to cast himself as best-placed to mount a centrist challenge to the Republican Trump, who this week survived an impeachment trial that did little to dent his electoral support.

"I've lost a lot in my lifetime, like a lot of you have," he told the dinner, referring to the deaths of his wife and daughter in a car accident and losing son Beau to cancer.

"But I'll be damned if I'm going to stand by and lose this election to this man," Biden declared.

Yet the former vice president has all but conceded defeat in New Hampshire, noting that in 2016 Sanders, who represents neighboring Vermont, won the New Hampshire primary by 20 points.

- 'Dumpster fire' -

At a Biden rally Saturday, Erin Kerry, a 49-year-old financial analyst from neighboring Massachusetts, said she wished Biden had done better in the debate, but added, "I'm not ready to count him out yet."

Cameron Landry, a 24-year-old student, said he liked Biden's experience but questioned whether he had the grit to take on Trump.

"I think we need somebody that can compete with the reality star. People love reality TV. It's a dumpster fire and people want to watch," Landry told AFP.

After New Hampshire, the candidates turn to Nevada on February 22, South Carolina on February 29 and then Super Tuesday on March 3, when 14 states vote.

Also in the race is billionaire and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is surging in the polls after spending a record $260 million of his personal fortune on his campaign.

He is skipping the first four nominating contests, focusing instead on Super Tuesday.