Buttigieg responds to criticism during 6th Democratic debate

LOS ANGELES (WNDU/CNN) - South Bend mayor and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was the focus of attacks from his Democratic rivals at a high-stakes debate in Los Angeles Thursday night.

PBS NewsHour/POLITICO

Sen. Elizabeth Warren seized on Buttigieg's reliance on wealthy donors, and it was a clash that stole the spotlight.

"The mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine. Think about who comes to that," Warren said. "He had promised that every fundraiser he would do would be open-door, but this one was closed-door. We made the decision many years ago that rich people in smoke-filled rooms would not pick the next president of the United States. Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States."

"According to Forbes Magazine, I am literally the only person on this stage who is not a millionaire or billionaire," Buttigieg responded to applause from the audience. "So – this is important – so, this is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass. If I pledge never to be in the company of a progressive Democratic donor, I couldn't be up here. Senator, your net worth is 100 times mine. Now, supposing you went home, feeling the holiday spirit – and I know this isn't likely, but stay with me – and decided to go onto peteforamerica.com and gave the maximum allowable by law, $2,800. Would that pollute my campaign because it came from a wealthy person? No, I would be glad to have that support. We need support from everybody who is committed to helping us beat Donald Trump."

"I do not sell access to my time. I don't do call time with millionaires and billionaires. I don’t meet behind closed doors with big-dollar donors. And, look, I've taken one that ought to be an easy step for everyone here. I've said to anyone who wants to donate to me, 'If you want to donate to me, that's fine, but don't come around later expecting to be ambassador,' because that's what goes on in these high-dollar fundraisers. I said no, and I asked everybody on this stage to join me. This ought to be an easy step, and here's the problem: If you can't stand up and take the steps that are relatively easy – can't stand up to the wealthy and well-connected when it's relatively easy, when you're a candidate, then how can the American people believe you're going to stand up to the wealthy and well-connected when you're president and it's really hard?"

Buttigieg, who is rapidly rising in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, also took heat from Sen. Amy Klobuchar over his limited governing experience.

"I think winning matters," Klobuchar said. "I think a track record of getting things done matters, and I also think showing our party that we can actually bring people with us, have a wider tent, have a bigger coalition and, yes, longer coattails, that matters."

"If you want to talk about the capacity to win, 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," Buttigieg retorted.

The next Democratic debate is set for Jan. 14 at Drake University in Des Moines, just ahead of the Iowa caucus.