Six candidates, one stage, just a handful of tickets out of Iowa.
The Democratic debate in the Hawkeye State, which serves for the next three weeks as center of the political universe, marked the seventh round of candidate clashes and the first of the new year.
It had the fewest participants and could prove the most consequential -- though it was arguably the most soporific -- as it came a scant 20 days before the first ballots of the marathon campaign are cast.
Previous debates provided a few memorable moments, but otherwise did little to recast the contest, which, for now, appears to be a four-way fight among former Vice President Joe Biden; former South Bend., Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Polls suggest half or more of potential caucus-goers are still making up their minds, which further heightened the stakes Tuesday night.
History, for what it's worth, suggests the outcome on Feb. 3 in Iowa will have a considerable impact on the nominating fight going forward. Typically, only three or so candidates advance from the caucuses as viable contenders.
Here are five takeaways from the mostly low-key debate at Des Moines' snow-crusted Drake University.
1. MAKING NICE
It looks like Sanders and Warren are still chums.
The two genuinely like each other and, up until just a few days ago, adhered to a mutually agreed-upon nondisparagement pact, even as they competed for many of the same left-leaning voters. But a political campaign can sorely test a friendship, especially when pals are seeking the same office.
The entente seemingly ended over the weekend when Politico reported that volunteers for Sanders' campaign were given a script bad-mouthing Warren. The two then spent Monday bickering over whether Sanders told Warren in a private December 2018 meeting that, in his view, a woman can't win the White House against President Donald Trump. He insisted he had not.