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Democratic debate live updates: Candidates spar in October debate in Ohio

NBC News' live blog of the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential election, hosted by CNN and the New York Times, in Westerville, Ohio, on Oct. 15, 2019.
Image: Twelve candidates will take the stage in a Democratic presidential primary debate in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 15, 2019.
Twelve candidates will take the stage in a Democratic presidential primary debate in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 15, 2019.Adrian Lam / NBC News

NBC News' live blog tracked the ups, downs and confrontations of the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential election cycle, co-hosted by CNN and The New York Times.

The largest group of candidates took the stage Tuesday night at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. They included front-runners Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren; Sen. Bernie Sanders, who returned to the campaign after having a heart attack two weeks ago; billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who appeared in his first debate of the cycle; and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who missed the September go-round after failing to qualify.

For full politics coverage, download the NBC News app.

1080d ago / 1:14 AM UTC

Elizabeth Warren vs. The Field

Elizabeth Warren has come under attack from fellow candidates in nearly every part of the debate, underscoring her recent rise in the polls and the threat other candidates feel as a result.

It’s a stark contrast from the previous three debates, when the candidates barely laid a glove on Warren, nor even really tried. 

Image: Democratic Presidential Candidates Participate In Fourth Debate In Ohio
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) listens to South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg during the Democratic Presidential Debate on Oct. 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio.Win McNamee / Getty Images

But tonight, Warren has come under fire on Medicare for All from Pete Buttigieg and an enlivened Amy Klobuchar, who said Warren's plan was “making Republican talking points”; from Beto O’Rourke, who said Warren is “more focused on being punitive” toward the wealthy than “lifting people up"; and from Andrew Yang, who said Warren's wealth tax had “massive implementation problems” in other countries that tried it.

1080d ago / 1:11 AM UTC

Booker: Attacks on one another don’t work

Biden is no longer the presumed front-runner in the race after Warren overtook him in several polls, and it is playing out in real time on the debate stage as every candidate is taking a swing at Warren over everything under the sun.

This has forced her to be defensive and to vigorously defend her positions. Notably, Biden has not fielded an onslaught in the same way. However, Booker came in after the last skirmish and urged his opponents to disagree without “tearing each other down” because it will only serve Republicans and Trump.

It raises questions for Democrats: Do they want a “nice” primary so that the nominee isn’t limping to the general election? Or do they want a more aggressive race so that the nominee is prepared for Trump’s brash, unrelenting attacks? 

1080d ago / 1:10 AM UTC

Washington Post runs ad during New York Times debate

Who doesn’t love a bit of news media gamesmanship? The Washington Post, not a publication that runs a lot of TV ads, drops one during the CNN-New York Times debate.

We’ll be on the lookout for a Times ad during the upcoming MSNBC/WaPo debate.

1080d ago / 1:08 AM UTC

Fact check: Biden suggests he didn't warn against 'demonizing' the wealthy

After moderator Erin Burnett said to Joe Biden, “You have warned against demonizing rich people,” Biden rejected he'd ever said such a thing. 

“Demonizing the wealthy? What I talked about was how you get things done and the way to get things done is take a look at the tax code right now," he shot back.

But Biden did warn against demonizing the wealthy — explicitly.

Biden said at a New York City fundraiser in June that “we may not want to demonize anybody who has made money,” because “rich people are just as patriotic as poor people,” according to numerous reports about the event. 

1080d ago / 1:05 AM UTC


1080d ago / 1:01 AM UTC

Candidate attacks, by the numbers: One hour in

Former Vice President Joe Biden has been the focus of the field in the first three Democratic debates. But with Sen. Elizabeth Warren now edging him out in some polls, Tuesday night’s debaters appear to be shifting their attention to Warren, at least based on the first hour. Follow our tracker here

1080d ago / 1:01 AM UTC

NBC's Ali Vitali explains one possible motivation behind Klobuchar's fiery performance

1080d ago / 12:58 AM UTC

The debate on Twitter? It’s about Tom Steyer’s tie

Plenty of content on the debate stage, but the real debate is happening on Twitter — and it’s focused on Tom Steyer’s tie. Some like it. Meghan McCain? Not a fan.

1080d ago / 12:58 AM UTC

Tom Steyer agrees with Bernie: Billionaires should be taxed out of existence

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A question that CNN’s Erin Burnett asked Sanders about taxing billionaires out of existence under his plan to tackle income inequality took an unexpected turn when the lone billionaire on the stage — businessman Tom Steyer — agreed.

Steyer in his first debate appearance spoke directly to voters about the need for a wealth tax and strengthening worker and union rights.

“The corporations have bought our government,” he said, adding that it’s time to “break the power of these corporations.”

It’s important to note, however, Steyer has spent nearly $20 million on radio and TV ads ahead of the debate, which helped him qualify for it while other candidates did not. And he has spent almost $200 million to fund candidates and campaigns in the past, which helped him increase his name recognition.

1080d ago / 12:54 AM UTC

Booker wants 'sectoral bargaining' for workers. What is that?

Booker name-checked a plan to encourage “sectoral bargaining” for workers in order to help boost the labor movement in America and raise wages. Under this system, workers would negotiate standards for their industry across the country, rather than just individual unions at individual companies negotiating with their management. 

A number of candidates, including Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, have signed onto the concept, which is used in some European countries. SEIU head Mary Kay Henry is in favor of the idea, which she sees as a way to counter a longtime decline in union membership.

1080d ago / 12:52 AM UTC

Medical events still a driver of bankruptcy

Medical debt was often described as the leading cause of bankruptcy before the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, became law in 2010. 

By some estimates, including one in a series of often-mentioned papers published by then-Harvard University professor and bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren, found that before the Affordable Care Act, medical debt was responsible for about half of all bankruptcies in the United States. 

However, the number of people filing for bankruptcy due to a medical event has not declined, according to a paper published in February in the American Journal of Public Health. That study found that about two-thirds of all bankruptcies stemmed from medical problems and related costs. There is, however, other research which puts the share of bankruptcies caused by medical debt below 5 percent. Each of the studies used different data sets to reach their conclusions. 

1080d ago / 12:52 AM UTC

Yang’s presence felt

Yang’s supporters have complained that he has not received much attention in previous debates, but he’s been a big part of the first hour tonight. The automation question that was posed is a direct nod to his main plan, which is meant to establish a monthly payment to all Americans as a way to counteract the encroachment of robotics and artificial intelligence in a variety of industries.

1080d ago / 12:51 AM UTC

Fact check: Did Trump ask China to investigate Biden 'in exchange' for favorable trade terms?

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke said that President Donald Trump asked China to involve itself in the 2020 election "in exchange for favorable trade terms in an upcoming trade deal."

While the president surely called on China to probe possible political rival Joe Biden's family amid ongoing trade talks — he did so on television this month — he hasn’t publicly hinged it on “favorable” trade terms. We have not seen a record of Trump's conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but the president has denied asking Beijing to probe the Bidens.

Asked explicitly if he'd be "more willing to do a trade deal with the Chinese" if they investigated his political rival, the president said, "No, it has nothing to do with it.  No.  No. I want to do a trade deal with China, but only if it’s good for our country."

1080d ago / 12:46 AM UTC

Yang gang, assemble!

In what has to be Yang’s most fiery moment in any of the recent debates, he jumped into a conversation and pushed Warren about what her plan will do for people at risk of losing their jobs to automation. 

He focused on truck driving, adding that it’s the most common job in Ohio. Warren offered an answer about making sure there’s a safety net as Americans age — and gets a nod of approval from Yang.

1080d ago / 12:45 AM UTC

Klobuchar roasts Trump and Warren early

Klobuchar, one of the candidates in need of a breakout moment, landed punches twice in the opening stage of the debate on a pair of the hottest topics.

The first came as several candidates were asked to explain their positions on impeaching Trump. Klobuchar said Trump put his own interests before those of his country. Borrowing his slogan, she said pressuring Ukraine to investigate an opponent, his abandonment of the Kurds and his affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin did not make America great but made Russia great.

Later, as Warren tried to avoid agreeing with Sanders that their Medicare for All plans would result in broad tax increases, Klobuchar cut through some of the policy noise. “At least Bernie’s being honest here,” she said. “I’m sorry Elizabeth but you have not said that … The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something that you can actually get done.”

1080d ago / 12:44 AM UTC

What’s the difference between Warren, Buttgieg, Biden on health care?

Warren and Buttigieg got into an extended exchange on health care, with Warren defending her Medicare for All plan and Buttigieg defending his alternative. 

Here’s how each plan works: Warren would move virtually all Americans to a more generous version of Medicare that has no premiums and few out-of-pocket costs. Once everyone was moved to the new plan, all comprehensive private insurance plans would be banned, although customers could purchase supplemental insurance that cover any items that Medicare does not. Estimates of the cost peg it at upwards of $32 trillion over 10 years, although proponents argue it will lower overall health care spending by eliminating overhead and negotiating lower payments to hospitals, doctors and pharmaceutical companies. 

Buttigieg’s approach is dubbed “Medicare For All Who Want It,” and would automatically enroll some uninsured in a Medicare-like plan and allow other Americans to either keep their existing private insurance or buy in to the Medicare plan with aid from federal subsidies based on their income. No one would pay more than 8.5 percent of their income in premiums. His plan would also cap the amount health providers are allowed to charge private insurers relative to Medicare. Buttigieg estimates the cost would be $1.5 trillion and be paid for with new taxes on corporations. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden has a relatively similar $750 billion plan that would also create a Medicare-like option and cap premiums with expanded subsidies, but make participation voluntary. 

You can read about all the candidates plans at our issue tracker.

1080d ago / 12:43 AM UTC

Klobuchar promises to make drug giants pay for 'killing' Ohioans

Klobuchar won applause with a threat to force opioid manufacturers to pay for the people who have suffered from the consequences of drug addiction, including fatal overdoses.

The threat is likely to register in Ohio, which has the second highest rate of drug overdoses in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health.

Just this month, drug giant Johnson & Johnson reached a $20 million settlement with Ohio counties and avoided a potential federal trial, according to NBC News.

1080d ago / 12:39 AM UTC

Booker time

Cory Booker gets a bit of time, and he thanks the moderators for it. He’s been just about silent in the debate so far. There are just too many candidates for some people not to slip through the cracks for long periods of time.

1080d ago / 12:36 AM UTC

Fact check: Castro claims Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania have lost jobs

Early on Tuesday night, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro said that, "Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, actually, in the latest jobs data, have lost jobs, not gained them."

This doesn’t appear to be true, at least when it comes to Michigan and Pennsylvania. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment — both the rate and the total number of persons who are unemployed — went down in Michigan from July 2019 to August 2019, the latest month for which state data is available.

In Pennsylvania, the unemployment rate remained the same from July 2019 to August 2019. The number of people who were unemployed increased from July 2019 to August 2019, but so did the number of people who were employed.

Castro is right about Ohio, however, where both the unemployment rate and the number of persons unemployed increased from July 2019 to August 2019.

1080d ago / 12:30 AM UTC

Have you changed your mind about a Democratic candidate? Tell us.

As you're watching the Democratic debate tonight, share your anonymous Election Confession about the 2020 candidates. One just in about Amy Klobuchar:

1080d ago / 12:30 AM UTC

Warren comes under fire

Warren has watched her stock rise in the polls as she faced little pushback from fellow Democratic presidential candidates on the trail and in the debates.

That changed Tuesday. Already, Buttigieg and Klobuchar took aim at her over Medicare for All, signaling a gloves-off approach is over.

Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks during the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN in Westerville, Ohio on Oct. 15, 2019.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images
1080d ago / 12:29 AM UTC

Bernie revisits his favorite line

Sanders has said it before, and he said it again tonight: He wrote the damn bill. The bill, in this case, is a Medicare for All proposal

1080d ago / 12:27 AM UTC

Buttigieg hits Warren on 'Medicare for All'

Buttigieg took the biggest shot at Warren that the Massachusetts senator has faced on a presidential debate stage so far. Warren was asked whether Medicare for All would raise taxes on the middle class, and she instead said that she would sign no bill that would raise costs on the middle class.

Buttigieg then shot back, “A yes-or-no question that didn’t get a yes-or-no answer,” and took aim at Warren for having a plan for everything but not addressing that question. Warren then hit back, taking aim at Buttigieg’s health care proposal.

1080d ago / 12:26 AM UTC

Biden defends his son amid Ukraine controversy

Biden was asked about his son’s business dealings while he was vice president, but he seemed to dodge the question by making it about Trump’s alleged abuses of power and said that Trump is only attacking him because he’s the only one who can beat Trump in the general election.

Biden’s campaign has been struggling somewhat to counter the onslaught of allegations from Trump and his allies. But Biden said that he was satisfied with his son’s response to questions about his business dealings in which his son Hunter said he showed poor judgment and may have benefited from nepotism. Biden promised to avoid the appearance of conflict. However, none of his contenders appeared to have jumped in to attack him on the issue. 

1080d ago / 12:25 AM UTC

Buttigieg discusses what happens if Trump is impeached or voted out

Every candidate on stage reiterated their support for impeachment, but Buttigieg took his time to discuss what happens if Trump is impeached or voted out, saying it’s going to be more important to figure out how the country would move forward post-Trump. He noted that divisions in the country would be likely to worsen in the aftermath.

1080d ago / 12:25 AM UTC

Polls show mixed bag on support for impeachment

As the debate kicked off with questions about impeachment, a series of recent polls have shown growing support for an impeachment inquiry by Congress, although Americans remain split about whether the president should be impeached and removed from office. 

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week found that a majority of adults  — 55 percent — say that there is either enough evidence to impeach Trump and remove him from office now (24 percent) or that Congress should keep pursuing the investigation (31 percent.) Another 39 percent say there is not enough evidence for a congressional inquiry. 

But if asked to choose between just two options — removing him from office or allowing him to stay — it's a mixed bag. 

Forty-three percent say Trump should be removed, while 49 percent say he should not be impeached and removed at this time. 

1080d ago / 12:19 AM UTC

Candidates agree that Trump is the most corrupt president

Right off the bat, four candidates came out swinging at Trump by calling him the most corrupt president in the country’s history: Sanders, Biden, Harris and Klobuchar.

These remarks, of course, come against the backdrop of the  House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry and 2020 Democrats’ belief that Trump needs to be held accountable for alleged abuses of power.

1080d ago / 12:12 AM UTC

Pat Sajack is out

“Wheel of Fortune” host and noted conservative Pat Sajack lasted about two minutes tonight.

1080d ago / 12:06 AM UTC

Impeachment questions right off the bat

CNN’s Anderson Cooper launched the debate by asking the candidates, beginning with Sens. Warren and Sanders and former Vice President Biden, about impeachment  — a topic almost entirely avoided during the first three Democratic debates. This comes after Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s actions with regard to Ukraine.

All  of the candidates on stage have backed impeachment.

1080d ago / 12:04 AM UTC

Warren gets the first question

CNN immediately starts with Warren. A nod to her emergence as the candidate on the upswing?

1080d ago / 12:02 AM UTC

Candidates arrive on stage

Image: Democratic Presidential Candidates Participate In Fourth Debate In Ohio
Democratic presidential candidates (L-R) Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), billionaire Tom Steyer, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former tech executive Andrew Yang, former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and former housing secretary Julian Castro at the start of the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
1080d ago / 11:47 PM UTC

Can impeachment power already sizable debate ratings?

The first three Democratic debates all drew sizable audiences, providing evidence of heightened public interest more than a year ahead of the 2020 election. 

And that was before impeachment. 

Now, with the president facing growing pressure from Democrats, the party's 2020 candidates will be closely watched for their thoughts on the impeachment inquiry — a potential boost for CNN's ratings. 

Public support for impeachment has been growing in the polls, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is reportedly floating a vote on the inquiry. 

The high-water mark for a Democratic debate was set in June by the second night of the first debate, which drew 15.3 million viewers across NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo. That's still considerably lower than some 2016 Republican presidential debates featuring then-candidate Trump, one of which drew more than 24 million viewers.

Can Trump's influence drive the Dem ratings even higher? We'll see.

1080d ago / 11:30 PM UTC

Sanders is ready to talk about his health scare

Tonight will be Sanders' return to the campaign trail since having a heart attack two weeks ago, and his campaign knows that scrutiny of the 78-year-old senator will be high. Expect Sanders to continue to be personal and reflective about his health scare, connecting it to his signature policy proposals, his campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, told NBC News. 

As he did in a video posted to his Twitter account last week, Sanders is ready to "talk about how we come through these things stronger, with more resolve about the mission that we're all here on Earth to try to serve," Shakir said.

"In many ways, this is going to be the first coming out of Bernie Sanders in a big way right after his medical event," Shakir said. "That's going to be framing, I assume, how some people are watching the debate, but also informing Senator Sanders about the things he needs to do to reassure people that he is running a vigorous campaign and fighting aggressively for this nomination."

1080d ago / 11:12 PM UTC

Team Biden on what to expect tonight

A Biden adviser outlined the candidate's approach to the debate.

"What you'll hear tonight from the VP is that first and foremost, we have to keep the focus on Donald Trump's unprecedented abuse of power," the adviser said. "Trump is trying to distract from the fact that he has turned his back on working families. But, Biden won’t be distracted from the issues that are impacting working families."

Biden will also emphasize his decades-long record in Washington, the adviser said.

"From the Violence Against Women Act to the Recovery Act, the Affordable Care Act, and fighting for working-class Americans, Joe Biden has delivered more tangible, progressive results than any candidate on that stage, and that's exactly what he'd do as president to move our nation forward while healing the damage Donald Trump has wrought."

1080d ago / 10:58 PM UTC

Hunter Biden, Sanders' health, and Syria

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Health care and the economy dominated the first questions at the earlier debates, but Syria is likely to start tonight’s debate. Bernie Sanders' health scare and Hunter Biden's work for a Ukrainian energy company also are likely to come up. First Read has the storylines to watch.

Image: Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden attend an NCAA basketball game between Georgetown University and Duke University in Washington.
Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden attend an NCAA basketball game between Georgetown University and Duke University in Washington.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters file
1080d ago / 10:43 PM UTC

Democratic candidates not pulling punches ahead of debate night

With the clock ticking closer to the Iowa caucuses, Democratic candidates are starting to get a bit chippy as they look to differentiate themselves from the rest of the field. In recent days, the candidates have sparred over the separation of church and state, gun control, health care and more, poking at divides that will likely be apparent on stage tonight. 

Read more about the candidates' attacks on each other in the Meet the Press Blog. 

1080d ago / 10:32 PM UTC

A quick look at the polls

What a difference a month and a half makes.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren comes into Tuesday's debate with the momentum, with some polls putting her ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Biden is currently leading in the Real Clear Politics national poll average, which puts together most major polls tracking the Democratic nomination. But Warren has made up a lot of ground since the last debate in mid-September, with the latest RCP average putting her only about six points behind Biden.

Warren overtook Biden in the average about a week ago, while polling close to Bernie Sanders at the time of the last debate.

As for the other nine candidates on stage, they've all remained reasonably flat, with Harris and Buttigieg trading fourth place back and forth in recent weeks.

1080d ago / 9:46 PM UTC

Impeachment, Warren and what else to watch for

WASHINGTON — Warren's a target. Biden's on the defense. Impeachment. Read Jonathan Allen's take on the five things to watch as the two Democratic presidential front-runners look to cement their primacy and struggling candidates try to revive their campaigns.

Image: Joe Biden, Eliazabeth Warren
Democratic presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden, left and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., talk on Sept. 12, 2019, during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston.David J. Phillip / AP
1080d ago / 9:43 PM UTC

Everything you need to know about the fourth debate

The field of candidates taking the stage the largest to date, including one fresh face and another returning after an absence. Where is the debate? What time does it start?

Here's everything you need to know.

Democratic presidential hopefuls New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders gesture during the third Democratic primary debate in Houston on Sept. 12, 2019.ROBYN BECK / AFP - Getty Images
1080d ago / 9:40 PM UTC

Tonight's livebloggers

Our livebloggers tonight will be NBC News Digital Politics reporters Allan Smith, Dartunorro Clark, Benjy Sarlin, Alex Seitz-Wald, and national political reporter Jonathan Allen; NBCBLK reporter Janell Ross; NBC OUT reporter Tim Fitzsimons; NBC News Digital senior tech editor Jason Abbruzzese, and the NBC News Political Unit's Mark Murray, Ben Kamisar and Carrie Dann.