Top U.S. Democratic presidential candidates are spending a final day sparring with each other ahead of Tuesday's crucial party primary in New Hampshire, trying to gain an early advantage in the race to oppose Republican President Donald Trump in next November's national election.
The contest in the rural northeastern state has taken on added consequence in the aftermath of a split vote in last week's Iowa caucuses that were remembered mostly for the agonizingly slow release of the final outcome that was linked to a wrongly coded app used in collecting vote totals from throughout the farm state.
In the end, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, edged Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-declared democratic socialist, in Iowa, but pre-election polls show Sanders ahead of Buttigieg in New Hampshire. Three other contenders are also hoping for a good showing in Tuesday's vote: former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, all of whom trailed the leaders in Iowa.
Small, mostly white New Hampshire is hardly reflective of the racial and ethnic diversity of the United States as a whole, but its importance every four years at the start of the presidential election campaign is recognized by both Democrats and Republicans.
The New Hampshire winner could gain an edge in the next two Democratic contests, in Nevada and South Carolina, which are scheduled for the last two Saturdays in February, ahead of 14 states voting on March 3.
Meanwhile, Trump is staging a Monday night rally for his supporters in the snow-covered state.
"Want to shake up the Dems a little bit - they have a really boring deal going on," he said on Twitter.
"Hope the Fake News, which never discusses it, is talking about the big crowds forming for my New Hampshire Rally tonight. They won’t!" Trump tweeted.
U.S. Democrats say their chief aim in the long slog of state contests to pick a nominee to oppose Trump is to find the most likely choice who can defeat him. All of the Democratic challengers defeat Trump in hypothetical national matchups, but the margins have edged closer in recent surveys, with Trump taking credit for a strong U.S. economy and winning acquittal last week in the Senate on impeachment charges brought against him by Democrats in the House of Representatives.
All the Democrats are claiming they are best equipped to take on Trump.
Sanders made his pitch at an early Monday rally, saying, "We are the strongest campaign to defeat Trump because of the nature of our campaign,” funded from a large network of small-dollar donors, which he contended was a sharp contrast with his rivals who have accepted contributions from wealthy donors.
"Unlike some of my opponents, I don’t have contributions from the CEOs of the pharmaceutical industry or Wall Street tycoons,” Sanders said in a clear attack on Buttigieg, who has accepted such donations and says he needs them to build a national political operation.“
You are my donors,” Sanders told his supporters.
Buttigieg has increasingly targeted Sanders.
"I respect Senator Sanders, but when I hear this message go out that you're either for revolution or you've got to be for the status quo, that's a vision of the country that doesn't have room for most of us," Buttigieg said at a Sunday rally.
At one event, Buttigieg attacked Sanders's signature call for a government-run national health care system in the U.S.
"As long as we're willing to have some common sense here, we can deliver the biggest change to American health care in a half-century," Buttigieg said. "But what we could do without is a plan so expensive that Senator Sanders himself freely admits he has no idea how it's supposed to be paid for."
Warren retooled her campaign message after a third-place finish in Iowa and possible disappointing results in New Hampshire. On Sunday night she characterized her life story as one of overcoming odds against her.
"I’ve been thinking about unwinnable fights,” she said. “They’re only unwinnable if you don’t get in the fight and fight it.”
"What we have to think about as a country [is] how it is we build an America where more people have more opportunities to win their unwinnable fights,” she said. “That’s why we’re here.”
She said such tough fights "tell us a lot about ourselves, who we are and the kind of country that we want to have.”
Biden’s first stop in New Hampshire on Monday morning was in Nashua, where he delivered doughnuts to school bus drivers and made a phone call to an attendee’s grandmother.
At a speech Monday night, Biden, making his third run for the Democratic presidential nomination, is expected to argue that Trump inherited a robust economy from former President Barack Obama, when Biden was his vice president.
"Trump’s going to tell us over and over again that the economy is on the ballot,” Biden will say. “It sure is. But something else is on the ballot. Character is on the ballot.” Biden has often cited his long experience in Washington as reason Democrats can trust him to defeat Trump, but a fourth place finish in Iowa has dented his claim and he has said he could "take a hit" in New Hampshire as well.
Klobuchar, who finished fifth in Iowa and won praise for her performance at a Friday night candidates debate, said she is seeing a "surge of support" in New Hampshire. Two polls had her moving ahead of Biden and Warren into third behind Sanders and Buttigieg.
"I know I’m not the candidate that’s number one right now, but we are surging," she told voters at a rally over the weekend.
In Iowa, state Democratic officials said Buttigieg took 14 of the 41 delegates up for grabs to the party's July national nominating convention in Milwaukee, followed by Sanders with 12, Warren with eight, Biden six and Klobuchar one.