(AP) - The Democratic Party’s leading presidential contenders argued in favor of President Donald Trump’s impeachment as a shrinking field of White House contenders took the debate stage for a sixth and final time in 2019.
The debate was broadcast Thursday night on PBS and CNN.
Thursday’s debate was set in the heart of the holiday season just a day after the House’s historic vote to impeach Trump, raising the prospect of drawing the smallest audience yet.
But the stakes were not small in the broader tug-of-war between passionate progressives and pragmatic moderates who are battling over the party’s positions on core issues like health care, immigration, education and trade.
Support for Trump’s impeachment and criticism of his economy dominated the early moments of the debate.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said, “The president is not king in America.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden said, “We need to restore the integrity of the presidency.”
The candidates also railed against Trump’s economy, despite outward indicators that the economy is doing well.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said, “This economy is not working for most of us.”
The candidates clashed over the defining issue for their party’s primary voters: electability.
The face-off was substantive and civil early on.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Buttigieg clashed over campaign fundraising later in the debate.
Warren said, “Most of the people on this stage run a traditional campaign, and that means going back-and-forth, coast-to-coast to rich people."
It was a jab at Buttigieg, who had recently met privately with donors inside a California “wine cave.”
Buttigieg did not back down. He said the goal was to defeat Trump and that “we shouldn’t try to do it with one hand tied behind our back.”
Klobuchar challenged Buttigieg’s limited governing experience.
The specific arguments may be evolving, but the broader questions looming over the 2020 nomination fight have not: Democrats are not close to unifying behind a message or messenger in their quest to deny Trump a second term.
The debate in Los Angeles featured the fewest number of candidates so far, just seven, a result of the Democratic Party’s stricter rules for qualifying.
That’s down from 20 candidates six months ago.
The field may be winnowing, but the primary contest remains deeply unsettled. The tug-of-war between the progressive and moderate wings of the party is deadlocked.
There are essentially four front-runners, each with his or her own glaring flaws. And suddenly, one of the strengths of the Democratic Party’s 2020 class — its diversity — has disappeared.
The host state, California, offers the largest haul of delegates, giving candidates their biggest host venue of the campaign.
Two candidates who didn’t make the debate stage, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, ran ads during the debate to remind viewers they’re still in the race.