Hi, and welcome to a special post-debate edition of On Politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.
“Shake the money tree in the wine cave” — Andrew Yang
The sixth Democratic primary debate was notable for its smaller set of candidates, its focus on foreign policy and its less racially diverse lineup.
And, of course, the detailed discussion of wine caves.
This was the moment when the long-brewing, field-wide distaste for Pete Buttigieg broke into the open. And it all seemed to emerge from … a wine cellar.
Not just any wine cellar: the Hall Rutherford winery in the Napa Valley, with a 1,500-Swarovski-crystal chandelier, an onyx banquet table and $900 bottles of wine. It’s a wine cave where a billionaire former ambassador recently hosted Mr. Buttigieg for a fund-raiser.
The fight began when Senator Elizabeth Warren delivered a relatively oblique critique of big-dollar fund-raisers. Mr. Buttigieg responded, saying he couldn’t “help but feel that might have been directed at me.”
“This is our only chance to defeat Donald Trump, and we shouldn’t do it with one hand tied behind our back,” Mr. Buttigieg said, adding that he wouldn’t turn away wealthy donors.
Ms Warren shot back: “Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States.”
Then, Mr. Buttigieg noted he was the only candidate on the stage who was not a millionaire or a billionaire. He turned the conversation to Ms. Warren’s net worth of several million dollars, before pointing out that she had transferred $10.4 million from her Senate campaign to her presidential account. Some of that money was collected from rich donors at private fund-raisers.
“I do not sell access to my time. I don’t do call time with millionaires and billionaires,” Ms. Warren responded, referencing the standards she had put in place for her presidential bid.
The exchange was not unexpected. Senator Bernie Sanders’s longtime strategist Jeff Weaver even came to the debate in a wine cave-themed T-shirt, promoting “PetesWineCave.com,” a URL that goes to a donation page for the Sanders campaign.
And it’s a version of a battle that’s roiled the Democratic Party since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, which ushered in an era of unlimited super PAC spending in politics. Since then, Democrats have argued over whether to stick to their principles of getting big money out of politics — starting with their own campaigns — or whether that kind of move would amount to unilateral disarmament in the face of well-funded Republican opponents.
But the latest iteration of this debate does tell us a few things about where the 2020 campaign stands now, less than 50 days before Iowa’s caucuses kick off the primary season.
Mr. Buttigieg has risen in some early-state polls. Now, he’s facing the attacks that inevitably follow. With a great surge comes great scrutiny. The question is whether Thursday’s debate will hurt his standing.
It’s a pattern that should be familiar to Ms. Warren. Her summer surge brought a barrage of incoming fire from her rivals and a subsequent drop in the polls. Coming out of this debate, she faces the inverse question: Will her tussle with Mr. Buttigieg help reinvigorate her polling numbers?
Though they’re strikingly different ideologically, both candidates are competing for some of the same supporters — white, highly engaged, more educated voters. Nowhere is that battle more pressing than in Iowa. Of the four leading candidates, Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Warren have the most at stake in the Hawkeye State.
Mr. Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden both have durable national support and can rely on their voter bases in Nevada and South Carolina, two of the other early states. For Ms. Warren and Mr. Buttigieg, placing within the top three in Iowa will be crucial to their chances of securing the nomination.
The debate showed they may soon have a serious challenger in that battle: Senator Amy Klobuchar. She got more speaking time than nearly anyone on the stage. Her team is hoping for a late surge in Iowa — and if that happens, she could pose a problem for Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Warren.
Her thoughts on the wine cave?
“I did not come here to listen to this argument,” Ms. Klobuchar said after her two rivals had sparred. “And I have never even been to a wine cave. I have been to the Wind Cave in South Dakota, which I suggest you go to.”
Not everyone appreciated the wine cave battle. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, who owns wineries, saw an unfair slight — not of the candidates but of the cave.
“Having a wine cave — it’s my business. It’s how I started. It’s a point of pride, it’s one of America’s great exports,” he said. “I don’t know that it’s helpful to have those kinds of debates.”
Sigh. After all that drama, I could sure use a magnum of that 2015 Kathryn Hall cabernet sauvignon. Anyone know where I can get some in Des Moines?
Want more debate coverage?
Here’s the recap that ran on the front page of the newspaper: Even leaving the wine cave aside, Mr. Buttigieg was parrying attacks all night.
Check out our six takeaways from the debate: Mr. Biden faded into the background, Mr. Sanders went largely unchallenged and Mr. Yang made the most of his time.
Want to see what you missed? Watch the highlights from the debate in three minutes.
Our colleagues in the Washington bureau fact-checked the candidates on big donors, troops in Afghanistan, a wealth tax and more.
Who got the most speaking time onstage? We kept track.
What did you think of the debate last night? We want to hear your thoughts. Email us at email@example.com.
In fact, I have always wanted to see a dancing Bernie Sanders singing along to tunes from “A Chorus Line.”
It doesn’t get more Iowa than a musical about the 2020 candidates.
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