Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders sparred during Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas, with the former South Bend, Ind., mayor calling the Vermont senator too “polarizing” to be the Democratic nominee, and Sanders taking a jab at Buttigieg’s big-money donors.
“We’ve got to wake up as a party,” Buttigieg said. “We could wake up two weeks from today, the day after Super Tuesday, and the only candidates left standing will be Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg, the two most polarizing figures on this stage. And most Americans don’t see where they fit. They’ve got to choose between a socialist who thinks capitalism is the root of all evil, and a billionaire who thinks money should be the root of all power.
“Let’s put forward somebody who actually lives and works in a middle-class neighborhood in an industrial Midwestern city,” Buttigieg continued. “Let’s put forward somebody who’s actually a Democrat.”
Although he's running for the Democratic nomination for the second time, Sanders is technically an independent — the longest-serving independent in congressional history. Bloomberg is a billionaire former Republican who became an independent in 2007 and delivered a speech backing Hillary Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
“We shouldn’t have to choose between one candidate who wants to burn this party down and another candidate who wants to buy this party out,” Buttigieg added. “We can do better.”
Sanders responded with swipes at both Buttigieg and Bloomberg.
“If speaking to the needs and the pain of long-neglected working class is polarizing, I think you got the wrong word,” Sanders said. “What we are trying, finally, to do is to give a voice to people who after 45 years of work are not making a nickel more than they did 45 years ago. We are giving a voice to people who are saying we are sick and tired of seeing billionaires like Mr. Bloomberg seeing huge expansions of their wealth while half a million people sleep out on the street. So what we are saying, Pete, is maybe it’s time for the working class of this country have a little power in Washington rather than your billionaire campaign contributors.”
Buttigieg fired back at Sanders.
“You’re not the only one who cares about the working class,” he said. “Most Americans believe we need to empower workers.”
Buttigieg then raised Sanders’s spat with Nevada’s powerful Culinary Workers Union, which has criticized the Vermont senator's approach to health care but declined to endorse any of his rivals.
Sanders was quick to return fire. “We have more union support than you have ever dreamed of,” he told Buttigieg.
Buttigeg also accused Sanders’s supporters of viciously attacking his rivals on social media. The Vermont senator has denounced such attacks.
“We can build a movement without having legions of our supporters online and in person attacking Democratic figures and leaders alike,” Buttigieg said.
Sanders said “99.9 percent” of his 10.6 million Twitter followers are “decent human beings, are working people, people who believe in justice.”
“And if there are a few people who make ugly remarks,” Sanders said, “I disown those people. They are not part of our movement.”
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