By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – Hey, Pete Buttigieg – welcome to the NFL.

It’s been mostly a walk in the park for Mayor Pete so far in his impressive rise from “who?” to Iowa and New Hampshire front runner. While better-known candidates have fumbled and ranted, Buttigieg has offered a passable “no-drama-Obama” impersonation.

But like a Heisman Trophy winner getting his bell rung on the first day of practice in the pros, Buttigieg found himself taking hits from all sides in Thursday night’s Democratic debate in Los Angeles.

He picked a fight with Sen. Elizabeth Warren after she was questioned about potential economic damage from her proposals for major new taxes on the wealthy.

“On issue after issue we’ve gotta break out of the Washington mindset that measures the bigness of an idea by how many trillions it adds to the budget or the boldness of an idea by how many fellow Americans it can antagonize,” Buttigieg said.

Moments later, Warren struck back, noting “the mayor just recently had a fundraiser in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine. Think about who comes to that. Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States.”

Buttigieg had a good answer about how the eventual Democratic nominee will need every dime he or she can get to beat Donald Trump, but he couldn’t just leave it at that, lashing out at Warren for “issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass,” a reference to the fact that she not so long ago was taking the big-donor dollars she now decries. He played the class card, pointing out that Warren’s net worth “is 100 times mine.”

“I do not sell access to my time,” replied Warren, and if looks could kill, visiting hours for Buttigieg would be 2-to-4 and 7-to-9 p.m. Friday.

Buttigieg was also on the defensive in an exchange with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who chastised him for past disparagement of the experience of his competitors. “I just think you should respect our experience when you look at how you evaluate someone who can get things done,” she said.

Again, it seems an overreaction when Buttigieg clapped back by playing the military service card and the gay card; “try putting together a coalition to bring you back to office with 80% of the vote as a gay dude in Mike Pence’s Indiana,” he replied to her challenge to his electability. But he had no comeback when Klobuchar noted that in his one bid for statewide office, a disastrous 2010 run for state treasurer, “you lost by 20 points.”

All told, a tough night for Buttigieg; no wonder his primary competitor for moderate voters, Joe Biden, who delivered his most coherent and composed debate performance to date, was looking content at night’s end.

Also happy Friday morning: Klobuchar, who schooled Buttigieg at times in how to go on offense without being offensive.

Bernie Sanders was Bernie. He did fine.

And in what may be their final debate appearances depending on how the Democratic National Committee ups the ante for entry into the next one in January, Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang solidified their standing as possible cabinet secretaries or agency heads down the road.

Everyone wants their debate analysis to conclude with a clear winner and loser, and I hate to disappoint. But I bet this race is every bit as close today as it was yesterday.

Jon Keller


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