As news broke about the Iowa caucuses results, the two top finishers there tried to woo New Hampshire voters by sharing personal stories during hour-long CNN town halls on Thursday night.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg fielded questions about their standings in Iowa. They were followed by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is trying to build on a fifth-place finish in the caucuses, and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a late entrant into the presidential race who didn’t compete in Iowa but is hoping his neighboring state will serve as a launchpad.
Here are six takeaways from the second night of town halls:
Everyone wants to move beyond Iowa
The Iowa caucuses are in chaos. And even the candidates who turned in strong showings in the state are ready to move on.
Both Buttigieg and Sanders, the candidates who are divided by just one-tenth of one percent in the all-important state delegate equivalent count, told CNN on Thursday that they were happy with their performances in Iowa and unlikely to call for the results to be recanvassed, despite multiple analyses showing errors in the count reported by the Iowa Democratic Party.
“We’ve got enough of Iowa,” Sanders said to laughter. “Move on to New Hampshire.”
Sanders said the process “distressed” him and called it “sad” that the Iowa Democratic Party, as he put it, “screwed up the counting process quite so badly.”
The Vermont senator’s answer signaled he was uninterested in challenging the Iowa results.
Buttigieg, speaking after Sanders, echoed that sentiment.
Buttigieg said that his narrow lead over Sanders was “fantastic news,” but then he pivoted to congratulating Sanders.
“First of all, I want to say, Sen. Sanders clearly had a great night too, and I congratulate him and his supporters,” Buttigieg said.
Pushed on whether he would call for a recanvass, Buttigieg said he supported “whatever they need to do in order to make sure that the information is clear and verified” and said he would “leave it to the party” to decide.
“What I’ll say is nothing can take away what happened on Monday,” Buttigieg said. “Just an extraordinary moment for the movement that we have built and now we’re looking ahead to New Hampshire and beyond.”
Even Klobuchar, who overperformed her polling in Iowa, signaled she was ready to move on.
“We actually left Iowa with a lot of enthusiasm,” Klobuchar said. “And now the point is I’m here in New Hampshire.”
What was clear on Thursday night is that Buttigieg, Sanders and Klobuchar, despite their strong performances, were not eager to continue the fight – and all had turned their attention to New Hampshire.
Bernie Sanders gets personal
Four years ago, during his first run for president, Bernie Sanders rarely spoke about his youth, as a kid in Brooklyn, his time as a student activist, or his Judaism.
In 2020, he has been more willing to open up and, on Thursday night, he spoke at length about how his childhood and faith inform his politics.
“When I try to think about how I came to the views that I hold, there are two major factors,” Sanders said. “No. 1, I grew up in a family that didn’t have a whole lot of money. … The second one is being Jewish.”
Sanders recalled growing up Brooklyn, New York, just after World War II, in a Jewish neighborhood that became home to many European Holocaust survivors.
“In the community that I lived in you go downtown, shop, and people had the tattoos from the concentration camps on their arms,” Sanders said, talking about how he would cry when he saw images from the war. “I think at a very early age, before my political thoughts were developed, I was aware of the horrible things that human beings can do to other people in the name of racism or white nationalism, in this case Nazism.”
Those feelings, and memories, he added, are “why I will do everything I can to end the kind of divisiveness that Trump is fomenting in this country.”
Asked later what a young Bernie Sanders would think about the 78-year-old version, Sanders brought up his mother and father.
“If my parents were alive today, they both died young, it would have been incomprehensible to them – incomprehensible – that their son, coming from where we came from (would) become a US senator or mayor, from Burlington, or candidate for president of the United States,” he said. “It would have been unthinkable.”
Buttigieg opens up about how he viewed being gay early in his life
Buttigieg said Thursday that while he – at one point in his life – thought being gay would have kept him out of politics, he now sees how his identity “is actually very much part of the impact I get to have now.”
It was a blunt moment from the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor, who is the first gay top tier candidate for a major American political party and whose lead in Iowa has been seen as a seminal moment in the advancement of LGBTQ rights in the United States.
“I would have done anything, at a certain time in my life, I would have done anything not to be gay and believed that as that reality became inescapable, that it might cost the chance to serve, in uniform or in office,” Buttigieg said. “And here I am now finding that that very same fact that I thought might prevent me from having an impact in the world, at least a certain kind of impact in a certain kind of way, it’s actually very much part of the impact I get to have now.”
Buttigieg doesn’t often talk about his identity. He came out in 2015 and wrote in his pre-campaign memoir that he worried about being “defined” by his identity.
But it has been clear since Iowa that the historic nature of his candidacy has weighed on Buttigieg, who grew emotional on Tuesday when he said in New Hampshire that his Iowa performance “validates for a kid somewhere in a community wondering if he belongs or she belongs… that if you believe in yourself and your country, there is a lot backing up the belief.”
And with his husband, Chasten, watching on Thursday, Buttigieg reiterated that his hope was his candidacy would be a beacon to “young people who question whether they fit in in their own family, in their community, as they come to terms with who they are.”
“We’ve got a long way to go when it comes to LGBTQ equality right now,” he said at the CNN town hall. “But I think the fact that I’m standing here, the fact that my husband’s in the audience watching right now, is just an amazing example of that belief that that yes, yes, you belong. And this country has a place for you.”
Sanders calls Trump a socialist
Sanders said he’d respond to attacks on him as a socialist in a general election match-up with President Donald Trump by calling Trump a socialist.
“In many ways, Donald Trump is a socialist himself. He is a socialist who believes in massive help for large corporations and the rich,” Sanders said in a CNN town hall.
He said as a real estate developer, Trump received “$800 million in tax breaks and subsidies to build luxury condominiums. That’s called socialism for the very, very rich.”
“When we give tax breaks and subsidies to the fossil fuel industry to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars so they can produce a product which is destroying the planet, this is called socialism for large corporations, corporate socialism,” Sanders said.
Klobuchar: ‘Every single time I have exceeded expectations’
Klobuchar, asked about the future of her campaign, said that she was happy with her top five finish in Iowa, but that she needs to continue exceeding expectations to turn in a strong performance in New Hampshire.
“There were so many people in this race, as you know, and I am now in the top five,” Klobuchar said. “Every single time, I have exceeded expectations. I look at Iowa and I look it this way: We did well.”
Klobuchar invested heavily in Iowa and needs a similarly strong performance in New Hampshire to keep her campaign going.
“We are surging and we are surging because people have stepped back and say, you know what, maybe I want a candidate that’s actually going to get things done. That has my back,” she said. “And I’ve always told people, if you are tired of the extremes in our politics and you are tired of the noise and the nonsense, you have a home with me.”
Left unsaid in Klobuchar’s answer is the uphill climb she faces after New Hampshire. Polls show her with little support in Nevada and South Carolina and lacking serious organization in states that begin voting in March.
Patrick says he’s ‘traded advice’ with Obama
Patrick described his relationship with former President Barack Obama on Thursday, telling people in New Hampshire that the two friends “have traded advice” on the methods of running for office.
Some of the most pointed advice Obama offered Patrick, he said, was about how difficult running for president could be.
“He warned me … about how hard, how mean and dehumanizing it can sometimes be to run for office, particularly for the presidency,” Patrick said. “But we’ve also talked about how many acts of extraordinary grace and kindness that you’re shown” on the campaign trail.
Patrick has been compared to Obama throughout his career, in part because both have leaned on their personal stories and ties to Chicago to rise to political power throughout their career. Patrick’s first campaign for governor was helmed by political consultants David Axelrod and David Plouffe and his slogan – “Together We Can” – was seen as a precursor to Obama’s hopeful message in 2008.
And the two Democrats remain close to this day – and Patrick said on Thursday that they had known each other for 15 years.
“He was incredibly helpful,” Patrick said of Obama’s role in his first gubernatorial run. “We have traded advice, not so much on policy, because we’re aligned pretty generally on policy, but on method, really, about the importance of running and connecting at the grassroots, about the importance of inviting people from the sidelines to come in and take responsibility for their own civic and political life.”