By Sharon Bernstein and Ginger Gibson
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The Democratic U.S. presidential hopefuls headed back to the campaign trail on Friday after a debate that featured attacks on rising contender Pete Buttigieg’s lack of political experience and fundraising from wealthy donors.
With the first contest in the state-by-state battle for the party’s nomination to face Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election less than seven weeks away in Iowa, the candidates are running out of time to make a move in a Democratic race that opinion polls indicate is up for grabs.
At Thursday night’s debate in Los Angeles, the intensifying feud between Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and liberal U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts over transparency and fundraising burst to the surface.
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, lagging in the polls and hoping for a strong showing in Iowa to energize her campaign, questioned Buttigieg’s thin political resume.
The exchanges underlined the growing stakes in the Democratic race. Opinion polls show Buttigieg taking the lead in Iowa, with former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Warren fighting for the top spot in national polls.
On Friday, Buttigieg met with community leaders and activists in South Gate, a heavily Latino city in the southern part of Los Angeles County for a discussion on environmental justice.
Bill De Witt, a city council member and former mayor, said he is a Republican, but found Buttigieg compelling.
“He’s smart and he presents himself really well,” said De Witt, who voted for Trump in 2016 but said that this time around he is considering supporting a Democrat.
Biden was across town, making a campaign stop at a local restaurant, where he discussed his support for the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade pact approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday.
Biden said that while he did not initially support the accord, the changes made during negotiations with House Democrats were enough to get his backing.
“What I’ve seen change is that the vast majority of labor now supports it,” Biden told reporters.
Biden said he is not worried about backing a deal that Trump now touts as one of his greatest accomplishments.
“This is not anything like what he supported and he introduced,” Biden said.
Biden then held a fundraiser at the Bel Air home of former MGM CEO Harry Sloan, who previously was a prolific fundraiser for Republican candidates.
Biden, who has touted his ability to work with Republicans and find bipartisan consensus, spoke highly of two former Republican presidential candidates who Sloan backed: U.S. Senator Mitt Romney and the late U.S. Senator John McCain.
“You also supported another man I admire, I don’t know nearly as well, but I admire … Mitt Romney, who is a man of honor and decent man,” Biden said.
Prior to a rally in Los Angeles, Sanders’ campaign said that it had its best debate-day haul of the year, raking in more than $1 million.
Thursday’s debate came one day after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, setting the stage for a trial in the Republican-held Senate on whether he should be removed from office. The Republican leader of the Senate has predicted there is no chance Trump will be removed.
The upcoming trial limit the campaign time for the five Democratic candidates who are U.S. senators – Warren, Sanders, Klobuchar, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado – who could be sidelined in Washington in January serving as jurors during the Senate impeachment trial.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein and Ginger Gibson; Additional reporting by Tim Reid; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Will Dunham)