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But on Tuesday night, during the last Democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses kickstart the nominating process, a handful of candidates who hope to face off against Trump in November shed light on how they intend to counter the strength of the U.S. economy.
Although the labor market is booming — job creation is solid and unemployment is at a half-century low — and the economy is growing a slow but steady pace, Democratic hopefuls pointed to a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. According to the Census Bureau, income inequality in the U.S. climbed to the highest level in more than 50 years in 2018.
“I love that debate because the American public is getting clobbered,” former Vice President Joe Biden said. “The wealthy are the only ones doing well, period. I'm looking forward to the economic debate.”
Biden, a frontrunner, argued that Trump’s economy was not working for most middle- and working-class Americans — a key bloc of voters that his campaign believes will be vital to winning the White House, should he become the Democratic nominee.
“With regard to the economy, I can hardly wait to have that debate with him,” Biden said. “Where I come from, the neighbors I come from, they're in real trouble, working-class people and middle-class people.”
Trump frequently appeals to voters by touting the “great economy we’ve had in the history of our country,” and warning that Democrats will derail growth, while dangling the possibility of another round of tax cuts. The record-long economic expansion is currently in its 11th year, although most economists agree that growth is beginning to taper.
“If any of these people that I’ve been watching on this stage got elected, your 401(k)s would be down the tubes,” Trump said in October. “You’d destroy the country.”
But hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer pointed to his own experience as a businessman as evidence that he could “beat” Trump on the economy. As Steyer himself put it, he started a business by himself in “one room” with no inheritance and ultimately turned it into a multi-billion dollar international business. Steyer sold the business in question, Farallon Capital, in 2012.
“Whoever is going to beat Mr. Trump is going to have to beat him on the economy,” Steyer said. “And I have the experience and the expertise to show that he's a fake and a fraud.”
“Look, Mayor Pete has three years as an analyst at McKinsey. I have 30 years of international business experience,” he added. “I can beat Trump on the economy. We're going to have to beat him on the economy. And I look forward to taking him down in the fall on the debate stage.”
But Pete Buttigieg countered that, saying that when he became mayor of South Bend, Indiana, the city -- the fourth-largest in Indiana -- was described as a “dying city.”
“I am ready to take on this president on the economy because I am from the exact kind of industrial Midwestern community that he pretends to speak to and has proven to turn his back on, and guided that community through a historic transformation,” he said.