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After Clashing In Debate Over Health Care, Warren And Buttigieg Make Their Pitches In N.H.04:45
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Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg both campaigned in New Hampshire Thursday. (Elise Amendola, Mary Schwalm/AP)
Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg both campaigned in New Hampshire Thursday. (Elise Amendola, Mary Schwalm/AP)

There’s little doubt that Elizabeth Warren has emerged as the Democratic front-runner, especially in New Hampshire. But after last week’s debate, could this be a Pete Buttigieg moment?

More than 600 people who filled a theater in Bow on Thursday night seemed to think so, as they greeted the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, with raucous cheers.

Buttigieg declared himself a feminist as he unveiled a plan to empower women, should he become president. He wants to close the gender pay and wealth gaps, provide affordable childcare and paid family leave, and says his Cabinet would be at least 50% female. Buttigieg says addressing gender inequity will be one of the keys to knitting the country back together once President Trump is out of office.

“This is a country where a woman can run for president and get [the support from] a majority of American voters," he said. "But also that same country is somehow one that allowed into the Oval Office a man who abuses and denigrates women on a regular basis."

Polls suggest Buttigieg is running well behind the top three candidates: Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. But his campaign is flush with cash. Last quarter, he raised more money than Biden. He has a New Hampshire staff of 64 — which is bigger than Warren’s — and more offices across the state than any of the other candidates.

Buttigieg smiles as he greets potential supporters following a panel discussion during the campaign stop in Nashua, N.H. (Mary Schwalm/AP)
Buttigieg smiles as he greets potential supporters following a panel discussion during the campaign stop in Nashua, N.H. (Mary Schwalm/AP)

And he is generating real enthusiasm among voters, like Dianne Eagle of Nashua.

“I think he’s an honest, sincere, brilliant fellow who’s doing this for the right reasons," Eagle said. "He’s talking about saving the country. We’re at a critical time.”

And after watching last week’s debate, Eagle agrees with Buttigieg on health care. She says "Medicare for All who Want It," which would keep the current system and give people the option to buy into Medicare, is a better approach than moving everyone into a government-run system — as favored by Warren and Sanders.

"It makes intuitive sense to me," Eagle said. "I think he’s right when he says people will have a choice and they’ll make the best choice for themselves, and we’ll see what works best for everybody.”

Warren was also in New Hampshire Thursday, holding a rally at Dartmouth College that drew 1,100 people, according to her campaign. It’s worth noting that even after taking fire in last week’s debate about her embrace of Medicare for All, she didn't talk  about it at Dartmouth. Instead, she remained focused on her core message: how money and corruption in Washington are to blame for just about everything.

“The price of prescription drugs, the opioid crisis, climate change, student loans, immigration," she said. "Whatever issue brought you here today, if there is a decision to be made in Washington, it has been influenced by money.”

Warren greets area high school students at a campaign event on the campus of Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. (Elise Amendola/AP)
Warren greets area high school students at a campaign event on the campus of Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. (Elise Amendola/AP)

Among those attending the Dartmouth rally who support Warren's pitch for Medicare for All was O. Ross McIntyre, a retired doctor from Lyme, New Hampshire, who favors scrapping the private health insurance industry.

“We are letting people make money off the backs of sick people, and it’s just not fair," he said. "We’d be better off with one insurance program for everyone, because that way you spread the risk. But whether she can sell that, I don’t know.”

Selling the plan represents a key challenge for Warren. A WBUR poll this week found that while many Massachusetts Democrats support Medicare for All, far more favor a plan with a public option.

Warren, who calls for big structural changes, was asked by a reporter Thursday: "Why not embrace smaller ideas that have a better chance of becoming reality?"

“Look, I don’t do polls," she said. "But we have a democracy that is broken right now. We have a country that works better and better and better for a thinner and thinner and thinner slice at the top. 2020 is our chance to turn that around — and that’s what I’m in this fight for.”

Warren says she's fighting for Medicare for All because it is "the gold standard" of health care systems. On Thursday, Buttigieg didn't disagree with that.

"I think [Medicare for All] probably is the destination," he said. "I just think there needs to be a little bit of humility woven into our policy. If it's the right answer for everybody, then everybody is going to opt into it. But if it's not ... then we're going to be really glad we didn't force [everyone] into it."

Warren says she’ll be releasing a plan for how to pay for Medicare for All in the coming weeks. Selling that may be one of her biggest fights yet.

Have a story idea, question or feedback? Email the politics team: politics@wbur.org.

This segment aired on October 25, 2019.

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Anthony Brooks Twitter Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.

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