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Who won the December Democratic debate?

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By Shannon Pettypiece  with NBC News Politics
Image: Democratic Presidential Candidates Participate In Last Debate Of 201
With the field of candidates on the debate stage Thursday night in Los Angeles narrowed to seven, there was more room for head-to-head conflict between contenders.   -   Copyright  Justin Sullivan Getty Images

WASHINGTON — A day after the House impeached President Donald Trump, the Democratic presidential contenders made their case for why they are best suited to take him on next year.

With the field of candidates on thedebate stage Thursday nightin Los Angeles narrowed to seven, there was more room for head-to-head conflict between contenders, with the bottom tier fighting to break into the top ranks and the top tier looking to break away from the pack.

With less than two months before voters begin weighing in, here's a look at who landed their punches, who weathered the blows and who might have had their last moment on the debate stage.

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg: Since jumping to the top tier of candidates last month, Buttigieg has faced increased scrutiny, with attacks on his limited experience and fundraising practices. But he appeared ready to counterpunch. When Warren accused him of being susceptible to influence by wealthy donors, Buttigieg accused Warren of "issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass," saying her net worth was 100 times his own. When Klobuchar attacked his lack of electoral experience, he held up his ability to get elected as a "gay dude in Mike Pence's Indiana" as proof he could pull together a winning coalition.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.: Her poll numbers have yet to break out of the single-digits, but Klobuchar has hung on, battling her way onto debate stage after debate stage. She had strong moments — and went directly after Buttigieg, the other Midwestern centrist on the stage, accusing him of denigrating her experience and being unable to win a major election. But she also went "Minnesota nice," stepping in several times to break up heated exchanges between the other candidates.

Former Vice President Joe Biden: After months of attacks from Trump over his son's business dealings in Ukraine, Biden has showed resilience at the top of the primary polls. But despite his frontrunner status, Biden took few arrows from his rivals nor did he launch many at them, saving most of his attacks for the current president. His most heated exchange of the night was arguing with Sanders, once again, that Medicare for All plans would lead to higher taxes.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.: Warren, who has seen Buttigieg eat into her support, came ready to hit him hard. "Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States," she said, echoing her recent trail attacks on his fundraising approach. In general, she largely continued the pattern of past debates: she and fellow progressive Bernie Sanders continued their apparent non-aggression pact as she kept her focus on taxing billionaires and corporations and largely avoided criticism over her health care plan.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.: Over the past few months, he's weathered both a heart attack and a past surge by Warren, neither of which have knocked him out of the top tier. On Thursday, Sanders had another consistent debate performance, throwing in some of the personal detail his team has urged him to share on the trail this year: when asked about Israel policy, he talked about living in that country as a young man and his pride in his Jewish identity, while saying "it's not enough to be pro-Israel. We need to be pro-Palestinian too."

Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang: He's had some of the most memorable one-liners in past debates and once again got some of the biggest laugh lines. ("I know what you're thinking, America," he said Thursday. "How am I still on this stage with them?") But he's failed to make progress in demonstrating he possesses the policy chops of the other candidates. With fewer candidates on the stage, Yang had more speaking time on issues like foreign affairs and climate change, which he kept focused on his campaign theme of how technology will impact the future.

Businessman Tom Steyer: The billionaire, who has avoided the cash crunch that has pushed more seasoned politicos out of the race, aimed once again to sell himself as the candidate most focused on climate change — but didn't break through on other issues. A big question for him heading into Thursday night was whether he would have a ready explanation for precisely why he's running. Voters may have ended the night without clarity on that answer.