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How 2020 Democrats sought to distinguish themselves at year’s final debate

In Los Angeles, seven leading candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination faced off for the final time this year at the PBS NewsHour/POLITICO debate Thursday night. They jousted over policy, campaign contributions and who among them is best equipped to take on President Trump in next year’s general election. John Yang reports on how the contenders sought to distinguish themselves.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In Los Angeles, they faced off for the final time this year, seven candidates at last night's "PBS NewsHour"/Politico debate jockeying to become the Democrat with a chance to unseat President Trump.

    They jousted over policy, political influence, and who among them was the best equipped to take on the president in 2020.

    John Yang begins our look.

  • John Yang:

    The tone of the "PBS NewsHour"/Politico debate turned on a dime from civil to contentious. The spark? Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren calling out South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, over fund-raising, specifically a fund-raiser he attended this past weekend hosted by Napa Valley winery owners.

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.:

    the mayor just recently had a fund-raiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine.

    Think about who comes to that. He had promised that every fund-raiser he would do would be open door, but this one was closed door. We made the decision many years ago that rich people in smoke-filled rooms would not pick the next president of the United States.

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    This is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass.


  • Pete Buttigieg:

    If I pledge — if I pledge never to be in the company of a progressive Democratic donor, I couldn't be up here.

    Senator, your net worth is 100 times mine.

  • John Yang:

    Buttigieg and Warren are competing for the same supporters: college-educated white voters.

    The mayor also clashed with Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who contrasted her election successes with his failures.

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.:

    We should have someone heading up this ticket that has actually won and been able to show that they can gather the support that you talk about of moderate Republicans and independents, as well as a fired-up Democratic base, and not just done it once; I have done it three times.

    I think winning matters.

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    If you want to talk about the capacity to win, try putting together a coalition to bring you back to office with 80 percent of the vote as a gay dude in Mike Pence's Indiana.


  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar:

    Again, I would — Mayor, if you — if you had won in Indiana, that would be one thing. You tried and you lost by 20 points.

  • John Yang:

    Another fault line? Health care. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders supports Medicare for all, while former Vice President Joe Biden wants to expand a public option.

  • Joseph Biden:

    Sixteen percent of the American public is on Medicare now and everybody has a tax taken out of their paycheck now. Tell me, you're going to add 84 percent more and there's not going to be higher taxes? At least before he was honest about it.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.:


  • Joseph Biden:

    It's going to increase personal taxes. There are going to be…

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    That's right.

    We are going to increase personal taxes. But we're eliminating premiums, we're eliminating co-payments, we're eliminating deductibles, we're eliminating all out-of-pocket expenses, and no family in America will spend more than $200 a year on prescription drugs.

  • John Yang:

    Two lower-tier candidates who made last night's more select debate stage sought to take advantage of the platform.

    Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang noted that he was the only candidate of color in the debate.

  • Andrew Yang:

    I grew up the son of immigrants, and I had many racial epithets used against me as a kid. But black and Latinos have something much more powerful working against them than words. They have numbers.

    The average net worth of a black household is only 10 percent that of a white household. Fewer than 5 percent of Americans donate to political campaigns. You know what you need to donate to political campaigns? Disposable income.

    I guarantee, if we had a freedom dividend of $1,000 a month, I would not be the only candidate of color on this stage tonight.

  • John Yang:

    Billionaire activist Tom Steyer discussed race in the context of President Trump's immigration policies.

  • Tom Steyer:

    I think it's important to note that this president is not against immigration. He's against immigration by nonwhite people.

    This is a racial argument by a racist president who's trying to divide us and who's vilifying people. It's absolutely wrong. And it's led him to break the laws of humanity in our name.

  • John Yang:

    The night also featured the most in-depth discussion of foreign policy so far this cycle, from China's human rights record.

  • Joseph Biden:

    A million Uyghurs, as you pointed out, Muslims, are in concentration camps. That's where they are right now. They're being abused. They are in concentration camps.

  • John Yang:

    To the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    What U.S. foreign policy must be about is not just being pro-Israel. We must be pro-Palestinian as well.

  • John Yang:

    Despite lively disagreements on policy, the candidates didn't lose sight of one issue that unites them.

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    This is our chance, this is our only chance to defeat Donald Trump.

  • John Yang:

    A point that polls show Democratic voters also in strong agreement.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

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