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Five takeaways from January's Democratic debate in Iowa

Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Will this time be any different?

On Tuesday night, Klobuchar was direct, detailed and concise. She was aggressive in pressing her points, without seeming obnoxious. She challenged Sanders and Warren over their advocacy of "Medicare for All" -- you need "a plan and not a pipe dream" -- aligning herself with the many who fret about losing their coverage and firmly staking herself to the political middle-ground, alongside Biden and Buttigieg.

She made several references to Iowa and Iowans, an always-welcome nod to local sensibilities. "These are real people hurt by Donald Trump's trade war," Klobuchar said in response to a question about trade.

No candidate has more riding on the caucuses; if Klobuchar fails to score in Iowa, where she enjoys special status as a next-door neighbor, it's hard to see where she climbs into contention.


Tom Steyer has spent more than $100 million on ads promoting his candidacy and, while there is little evidence the former hedge fund executive is a serious contender for the nomination, his weighty wallet has procured him a spot in the last four debates.

(Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose Niagara of cash makes Steyer's investment seem like a trickle, has not bothered to chase the requisite number of donors needed to qualify.)

Although he disappeared for long stretches of the debate, Steyer noted that he pushed for impeachment long before most other Democrats came around and asserted himself by repeatedly invoking his signature issue, climate change. He pointed out he was the only candidate on the stage who has made the fight against global warming his No. 1 priority and said he would declare a national emergency his first day in office.


"I cannot allow this country to go down the path of climate destruction," said Steyer, who has spent tens of millions of dollars, apart from his presidential campaign, to elevate climate change as a political issue.

Still, there was no reason to believe he transformed himself overnight into a top-tier candidate.

For those who despair at the outsized influence of campaign cash, the billionaire's lagging performance in the race shows that money can't buy you everything.

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