By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Burlington, Vt.

1. Pete takes aim at Warren, Beto

Here are your hump day power lunch talking points: Here in Bernie’s hometown, we watched Mayor Pete Buttigieg score some debate points on the biggest stage yet. He clashed with new frontrunner Elizabeth Warren, who struggled to define and defend her “Medicare for All” proposal. Buttigieg, of course, adds on his “for those who want it” version. “I have made clear what my principles are here,” Warren said at one of the defining points of the debate. “That is costs will go up for the wealthy and for big corporations and for hard working middle class families, costs will go down. I will not sign a bill into law that does not lower costs for middle-class families.” Buttigieg had called Warren’s plan’s “elusive” and added, “Your signature is to have a plan for everything, except this.”

Mayor Pete also clashed with Beto O'Rourke over gun reforms, saying the Texan is wasting his time on a proposal to outlaw and confiscate assault weapons. “We cannot wait for purity tests, we have to just get something done.” O’Rourke responded that Democrats should not be "limited by the polls, and the consultants, and the focus groups.” Buttigieg responded, “The problem isn’t the polls, the problem is the policy. I don’t need lessons from you on courage, political or personal.” 

I still believe there is a narrow lane for Buttigieg to win the Iowa caucuses, which is the lynchpin of his presidential candidacy. Despite last night's crowded debate stage, Buttigieg was conspicuous and emerged as one of the winners. All of these are elements Buttigieg needs as most Iowans continue to reassess who they will support. A smaller debate stage in November and December - perhaps without all the 2 to 3% pollers - would give him a better footing against the 70-year-olds.

2. Gauging Pete's performance

Here is the reaction to Mayor Pete's debate performance: David Axelrod: “His oratory as a veteran on what the meaning of the withdrawal from Syria was was one of the best moments of the night.” Boston Globe: "Grade: A. This was the single best moment of Buttigieg’s campaign for president. He did well on guns, on impeachment, and particularly on Syria." NYT: “Buttigieg’s biggest night yet. It was Mr. Buttigieg’s exchange with Ms. Warren over 'Medicare for all' that was most memorable." The Hill: “Buttigieg had a strong night and might have emerged as the winner of the debate. The performance is well-timed for Buttigieg, who burst out of the gate … Tuesday night’s debate could give him a burst of momentum heading into the final months before the caucuses.

3. McDermott v. Visclosky

Everyone knows Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott is antsy for the next political chapter. U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky is taking notice, with his campaign making a big document request from city hall. Visclosky told the NWI Times'  Dan Carden: "I appreciate the mayor's prompt and thorough attention to this normal request, which was sent via certified mail on Oct. 11, 2019, and also hand-delivered by my campaign director this morning." McDermott: "I've made it a priority of mine to have a good relationship with all of the elected officials, and the only one that I really haven't gotten a chance to know in the 15 years I've been mayor is Pete Visclosky. For some reason he wants nothing to do with me or my city." Earlier this month, McDermott called for a censure of President Trump, while Visclosky is backing the impeachment inquiry. "If I don't think the congressman is doing something that's in the best interests of the Region, I'm going to say it, out loud. And if that means I get (open records) requests filed against me by my congressman, then so be it. But it is definitely intimidation." 

4. Pence and Erdogan

When the Ukraine controversy began, President Trump told reporters to make sure to listen to Vice President Pence's phone calls with Ukraine President Zelensky, a classic "throw under the bus" from the billionaire. Now in the wake of Trump's epic Turkey/Kurds fiasco, Trump is sending Pence to Ankara to try to get Erdogan to end his ethnic cleansing assault that Trump gave the green lighted two weeks ago. Erdogan is saying this morning he won't meet with Pence. So Pence's reputation is being engulfed by Trump's two disasters. Meanwhile, Russia and Syria's Assad are rushing in to fill the U.S. void in what is becoming a betrayal of historic proportions.

5. What Hill was drinkin'

Attorney General Curtis Hill is now acknowledging in court filings that he had three glasses of wine, a martini and a shot of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky at the 2017 sine die party that has imperiled his political career. State Rep. Mara Candaleria Reardon and three legislative aides say the AG was acting like a horndog in a fit of groping. All of this is part of the Supreme Court's disciplinary process that could determine Hill's law license status and his ability to stay in office. Stay tuned, this one is coming to a head.

Thanks for reading, folks. It's The Atomic!