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Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders shakes hands with Senator Elizabeth Warren as former Vice President Joe Biden looks on before the start of the eighth Democratic 2020 presidential debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., February 7, 2020. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

Biden says he could ‘take a hit’ in New Hampshire

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden predicted he would “take a hit” in New Hampshire’s upcoming Democratic presidential primary in the opening moments of Friday night’s high-stakes debate as the 2020 primary season roared into a critical new phase.

Biden predicted that Bernie Sanders would win New Hampshire next week as he did four years ago, even as Biden raised questions about Sanders’ status as a self-described democratic socialist.

“I took a hit in Iowa and I’ll probably take a hit here,” Biden said.

Two candidates, Sanders and former Midwestern Mayor Pete Buttigieg, entered the night as the top targets, having emerged from Iowa essentially tied for the lead. Those trailing after the first contest — including Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — had an urgent need to demonstrate strength.

Billionaire activist Tom Steyer and New York entrepreneur Andrew Yang, meanwhile, were fighting to prove they belong in the conversation.

Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg remains a major unknown in the primary math, skipping debates and the first four states’ elections while flooding the airwaves with hundreds of millions of dollars in ads and picking up significant endorsements. He’s focusing on the big basket of Super Tuesday primaries.

The rapidly changing dynamic meant that the candidates had great incentive to mix it up in the 8 p.m. EST debate hosted by ABC. With the next debate nearly two weeks away, they might not get another chance.

“Tonight’s debate is probably the most consequential debate that we’ve had in a primary, ever,” said New Hampshire Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley. “Any slip-up could be disastrous to any one of them, any catchy comment could get them a meteoric rise.”

Associated Press writers Kathleen Ronayne and Will Weissert in Manchester, New Hampshire, and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.

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