Democratic candidates gang up on front-runner Biden


Former U.S. vice-president Joe Biden’s rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination ganged up to accuse the front-runner of failing to be ambitious enough on everything from health care, to gun control, to foreign policy, at the party’s third debate in Houston.

The Thursday night joust also featured some brief references to Canada, including one candidate cracking a joke about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wavy hair.

The debate was the first with a sufficiently small field to take place on a single night, ensuring the 10 top contenders all appeared on the same stage together. The candidates traded barbs and jokes in what was the liveliest of the campaign’s three debates so far.

The nearly three-hour performance drew sharper distinctions between the candidates on the centre and those on the left. But despite stumbling to respond to several attacks, Mr. Biden likely did little to damage his front-runner status.

“There’s a lot that I think Democrats and people who want a Democrat in the White House are willing to forgive,” said Seth McKee, a political scientist at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Tex. “And even sort of a slow, foggy Joe Biden might be good enough.”

From the beginning Mr. Biden, who has held a lead in the polls since before he entered the race in the spring, had a target on his back.

Left-wing senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, positioned on either side of Mr. Biden, opened by tag-teaming him on universal health care, which has proven to the be the issue that most sharply divides the slate more than two dozen candidates in the Democratic race.

While Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders want to replace all private health insurance with a single government-funded system, Mr. Biden favours keeping private health care but allowing people to buy into a government alternative.

“Everybody gets covered by health care at the lowest possible cost,” Ms. Warren said of her plan. “Those at the very top, the richest individuals and the biggest corporations, are going to pay more. And middle-class families are going to pay less.” Mr. Sanders argued that the taxes to fund a single-payer system would be less expensive than Americans currently pay for private plans.

Mr. Biden accused Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders of planning needless disruption by forcing people out of existing private plans, and of not having a comprehensive way of funding their alternatives.