Sanders-Warren Clash on Women Elevates Acrimony in Iowa Debate


(Bloomberg) -- Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren tried unsuccessfully to calm the waters Tuesday after a spat involving elitism, sexism and insinuations of lying, in a wide-ranging debate where the top candidates each enjoyed strong moments without yielding a clear winner.

Sanders-Warren Clash on Women Elevates Acrimony in Iowa Debate

The clash between the progressives looms over a tight race 20 days before the Iowa caucuses after a recent Des Moines Register/CNN survey showed Sanders, Warren, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg bunched up in a five-point spread at the front of the field.

It was hard to see how anyone on stage at Drake University in Des Moines dramatically bettered their position heading into the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses. That’s good news for Sanders, who led one key Iowa poll, and Biden, who topped a second survey. Warren and Buttigieg, struggling to gain altitude in Iowa, held their own with crisp performances while taking some hits from rivals.

When moderators raised the Sanders-Warren dispute, the uncomfortable smiles from the two candidates captured the feelings of many progressives who want the two to work together to block a moderate like Biden from winning the nomination.

But both held to their contradictory stories about what happened in a private 2018 meeting between them. Sanders insisted he “didn’t say” a woman couldn’t win the presidency in 2020. Warren said she “disagreed” when Sanders told her that, before trying to pivot away by saying, “Bernie is my friend, and I’m not here to fight with Bernie.”

Neither of the two wanted to prolong the topic, and yet it framed the early part of the debate and allowed each of the candidates — four men and two women — to lay out their cases to become the nominee. The spat dredged up old hostilities among mainstream Democratic figures who believe Sanders damaged Hillary Clinton in 2016 and potentially cost her the election.

The tension between the two was evident afterward when Warren walked up to Sanders to talk, but declined to shake his hand when he offered it.

Sanders-Warren Clash on Women Elevates Acrimony in Iowa Debate

”Bernie should have let this go,” former Clinton 2016 aide Jennifer Palmieri wrote on Twitter. She later added: “What we will likely remember most from this night is @ewarren and her well litigated exchange with @BernieSanders on electability. This is very tricky terrain for women candidates and she came out the winner.”

President Donald Trump sought to fuel the divisions as he held a rally in Milwaukee at the same time as the debate. “She said that Bernie said a woman can’t win,” he said. “I don’t believe that Bernie said that. I really don’t. It’s not the kind of a thing he’d say.”

And Warren tried to seize the moment to make her case to lead a majority-female party.

“Look at the men on this stage — collectively they have lost 10 elections. The only people on this stage who have won every election they’ve run in are the women,” she said, drawing heavy applause and referring to herself and Senator Amy Klobuchar. Tom Steyer completed the six-person debate stage.

The spat caused Sanders supporters to light up Twitter this week with the anti-Warren hashtags #RefundWarren and #ITrustBernie. It was clear Tuesday those animosities would linger.

“Who does Warren think she will win over with this sexism attack on Sanders? I can promise you she has just rendered herself completely unacceptable to most Sanders supporters,” progressive commentator Krystal Ball tweeted during the debate.

Other Democrats had a different view.

“It’s not just about what may or may not have been said in this conversation. Bernie came into this race with a bit of a legacy — the Bernie Bros were known to have been horrible to women online,” Karen Finney, a former Clinton 2016 aide, said on CNN before the debate Tuesday, using a pejorative to describe Sanders’ most fervent backers.

“The Bernie Bros, again — they’re pretty obnoxious. And they’re very sexist and misogynistic,” she said, adding that there are “a lot of women feeling pretty raw from 2016.”

Charles Chamberlain, the chair of the liberal group Democracy for America, pleaded with the two to play nice.

“Especially given how close the race remains just 20 days ahead of the first contest, it’s critical that progressives focus our fight for the Democratic nomination against candidates supported by the corporate wing, instead of fighting each other,” he said in a statement issued in the middle of the debate.

Klobuchar, who desperately needs Iowa to catapult into the top tier, had an unremarkable night as she offered herself as a pragmatic Midwesterner.

Michael Bloomberg, who is skipping the early states and polling fifth nationally, didn’t qualify for the debate under Democratic National Committee criteria because the billionaire is self-funding his campaign. He’s the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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