All four have at times led polling in Iowa, and are locked in a tight race in New Hampshire, whose primary follows closely behind Iowa.
Warren and Sanders were pitted against each other on whether a woman can be president, and their exchange on that issue was the only real contentious moment between them.
A CNN article published Monday reported that during a meeting between Warren and Sanders in 2018, Sanders reportedly told Warren he didn’t believe a woman could win the presidency.
Sanders has fiercely refuted that he ever said that. Warren, after hours of media questions Monday, issued her own statement saying Sanders did tell her that. Both candidates have tried to de-escalate the situation after a day of back-and-forth in the media.
On Tuesday’s debate stage, Sanders again denied he ever told Warren that he didn’t believe a woman could be president.
“How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could become the president of the United States?” he asked.
Warren maintained that Sanders did tell her that, but then turned her response into a discussion on the electability narrative facing women candidates, saying that the women candidates on the stage “outperform” the male candidates.
“The only people on this stage who have won every single election they’ve been in are the women,” she said.
Biden, who is leading nationally but has dropped in Iowa polling, was concise with many of his answers and laid out his points more clearly than he has in past debates. Buttigeig also steered clear of any real blunders.
In short, the top candidates avoided major mistakes and didn’t do anything that would substantially diminish their current standing in the top tier of candidates.
In the majority of the Democratic primary debates of the 2020 election cycle, health care has almost always dominated the first half-hour of discussion.
This time around, a foreign policy discussion opened the debate. The conversation focused mostly on Iran, as U.S. tensions with the country have flared after the killing of an Iranian general.
When asked by moderators whether they would allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar both said no.
“No,” Buttigieg said. “Ensuring that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon will of course be a priority.”
There was a small dust up between Sanders and Biden during the foreign policy discussion, where Sanders criticized Biden for voting for the Iraq war. Sanders said the Iraq war is the “worst blunder in modern history,” and has recently ramped up his criticisms of Biden’s foreign policy history.
In addition to talking about Iran, candidates also discussed North Korea. When asked whether he would meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un without preconditions, as President Donald Trump has done,” Biden said: “No, not now.”
“We’ve given him everything he was looking for,” Biden said of Kim. “Legitimacy.”
It goes without saying that the Hawkeye state was in large the focus Tuesday, with the venue hosting the debate just minutes from downtown Des Moines.
But several issues related to Iowa voters took center stage, such as infrastructure, child care and health insurance.
The moderators took turns to ask the candidates questions from actual Iowans.
In one instance, child care — a topic that has rarely been discussed in any of the other debates — was brought up due to a concern from a local mom who said that two-thirds of her salary went to child care.
Warren used the opportunity to describe her own experience with needing child care during her first real teaching job as a mother of two small children. Warren, who has said her wealth tax would fund universal child care, said she was ready to quit her job until her aunt stepped in to help.
“I’ve been there,” Warren said. “It was child care that really brought me down.”
The race will move on after the Feb. 3 caucuses, but Iowa had its moment in the spotlight Tuesday.
The Minnesota senator has yet to break double-digits in Iowa or national polling, and was looking to capitalize on a strong performance in the December debate.
But her one-liners didn’t land as well in a largely quiet debate hall, and she had very little interaction with her fellow candidates — interactions where she excelled in December.
“This debate isn’t real,” she said at one point, and she frequently continued speaking long after the moderators tried to move on.
She also stumbled when discussing the possibility of having a woman president.
Klobuchar was listing female politicians who had unseated Republican incumbents, and mentioned female Democratic governor Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, but appeared to get tongue-tied when looking to name Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly.
“Kansas has a woman governor right now, and she beat Kris Kobach And her name is – I’m very proud to know her – and her name is Gov. Kelly,” Klobuchar said.
The only question that specifically mentioned voters of color didn’t come until almost 10 minutes before the end of the debate, and was aimed at only Buttigieg regarding his lack of support among black voters. He answered, and the moderators moved on.
The Democratic field at times has included a Latino man, an Asian American man, a Samoan American woman, three black men and one black woman. In addition to its racial and ethnic diversity, the field also included a gay man and a record number of women.
Sen. Cory Booker was the latest candidate of color to end his campaign Monday.
Black, Latino and Asian American voters are key to Democratic electoral victories and overwhelmingly vote Democratic, and Tuesday’s debate did little to recognize that fact.
He stumbled when asked about his signature issue of climate change. Debate moderator Brianne Pfannenstiel brought attention to the fact that Steyer “made your $1.6 billion in part by investing in coal, oil, and gas.”
Steyer pivoted to say he invested in every part of the economy and over 10 years ago divested from fossil fuels, but it did not come across as a particularly strong rebuke of his past investments.