In one of the stand-out moments of the last Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire, Senator Amy Klobuchar attacked Pete Buttigieg over his experience — even infantilizing the former mayor of South Bend for joking that he would rather watch cartoons than President Trump’s impeachment trial. Two days later, Klobuchar’s debate performance and the positive coverage it received arguably helped her surge to third place in the New Hampshire primary (behind Buttigieg and winner Bernie Sanders). Wednesday night in Nevada, Mayor Pete took a few opportunities to strike back — in one case prompting Klobuchar to accuse him of making the attacks personal.
Debate moderator Vanessa Hauc had just brought up Klobuchar’s recent gaffe in which she was unable to name the president of Mexico during an interview, and how the senator had later joked that the campaign was not a game of Jeopardy. Klobuchar acknowledged she had forgotten the name at that moment, calling it an error. But Buttigieg — who correctly answered the same question and had been highlighting Klobuchar’s gaffe — tried to expand upon its meaning.
“I wouldn’t liken this to trivia,” he said, then argued that it was, in fact, a discrediting moment:
You are staking your candidacy on your Washington experience. You’re on the committee that oversees border security. You’re on the committee that does trade. You’re literally in the part of the committee that’s overseeing these things. And [you ] were not able to speak to literally the first thing about the politics in the country in your southern border.
“Are you trying to say I’m dumb? — are you mocking me, Pete?” Klobuchar responded, her voice cracking. She then starting comparing her experience with his:
I said I made an error. People sometimes forget names. I am the one that has the experience based on passing over 100 bills — if I could respond, this was a pretty big allegation. He’s basically saying that I don’t have the experience to be president of the United States. I have passed over 100 bills as the lead Democrat since being in the U.S. Senate. I am the one, not you, that has won statewide in congressional district after congressional district. And I will say when you tried in Indiana, Pete? You lost by over 20 points to someone who later lost to my friend Joe Donnelly. So don’t tell me about experience.
Buttigieg’s attempt to raise doubts about Klobuchar seemed to have backfired, but there was more pushback to come. After he tried to pivot to the classic outsider-campaign line about the difference between experience and judgment — the two started talking over each other until another candidate spoke up.
“Can I just defend Senator Klobuchar for a minute?” Elizabeth Warren interjected to some applause in the audience. She then chastised Buttigieg and anyone else who has been trying to draw a broad conclusion from Klobuchar’s gaffe:
This is not right. I understand that she forgot a name. It happens, it happens to everybody on this stage. Look, you want to ask about whether or not you understand trade policy with Mexico? Have at it. If you get it wrong, man, you ought to be held accountable for that. You want to ask about the economy and you get it wrong, you ought to be held accountable. You want to ask about a thousand different issues and you get it wrong, you ought to be held accountable. Let’s just be clear, missing a name all by itself, does not indicate that you do not understand what’s going on. I just think this is unfair.
Watch the full exchange here:
Klobuchar, who looked genuinely grateful for Warren’s defense, later dodged Buttigieg when the debate ended.