Round Four of the Democratic debates happened on Tuesday, with 12 candidates going toe to toe in Westerville, Ohio.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has hit the top of some national polls recently, and her status as the new front-runner was underlined when several of her rivals attacked her.
There seemed to be an urgent need by her rivals to curb her momentum.
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) were probably the most aggressive in going after Warren early on, and then others, including Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), joined in later.
Warren did not crumble, but she was put on the defensive.
Her “Medicare for All” plan caused Buttigieg to argue it creates limited choice, while Klobuchar hit her refusal to acknowledge that paying for it would almost certainly involve tax hikes.
Warren’s argument on the tax issue is that voters are concerned about overall costs, and that any tax increase would be offset because there would be no private insurance premiums. This is logically defensible, but her rivals exploit her tendency to sound evasive on the tax point.
Vice President Joe Biden failed to break the streak of indifferent performances on Tuesday.
The 76-year-old faded into the background and when he did gain the spotlight, his answers were prone to a lack of sharpness or punch.
Biden’s supporters would argue that his support has always come from older, more centrist Democrats and that he is the strongest candidate to take on Trump.
But there was nothing dominant about his performance on Tuesday night.
Sanders came into this debate facing serious questions about his health. It was the 78-year-old’s first major appearance since having a heart attack.
The Vermont Independent put those worries to rest with a typically feisty performance. There was no sign of a lack of vigor or stamina.
Buttigieg was the single standout performer on Tuesday. He took the fight to Warren and was prominent in the key early stages of the debate.
Buttigieg has always been an effective television performer, and he has shown startling fundraising strength.
Harris did well in the first Democratic debates in Miami in late June, but she has faded in the polls since then.
Just as memorable — but for the wrong reasons, was a later exchange with Warren on the subject of President Trump’s Twitter account.
Harris pressed Warren on why she wouldn’t support Harris’s push to have Trump banned from the social media platform. But Warren easily turned the attack around by saying that she was focused on removing Trump from the White House, not just from Twitter.