Democrats to clash in last de­bate be­fore Iowa vot­ing

Hope­fuls ex­pected to be ag­gres­sive in con­fronting ri­vals

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Alexandra Jaffe

Democrats are pre­par­ing for what could be their most con­tentious de­bate yet as the lead­ing can­di­dates gather in Iowa on Tues­day look­ing for a way to break out of the crowded top tier less than three weeks be­fore the state’s cau­cuse.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Democrats are pre­par­ing for what could be their most con­tentious de­bate yet as the lead­ing can­di­dates gather in Iowa on Tues­day look­ing for a way to break out of the crowded top tier less than three weeks be­fore the state’s cau­cuses kick- start the pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion process.

Some of the fiercest clashes could cen­ter on Sens. Bernie San­ders of Ver­mont and El­iz­a­beth War­ren of Mas­sachusetts, fel­low pro­gres­sives who un­til now have largely avoided crit­i­ciz­ing each other.

But War­ren chas­tised San­ders over the week­end fol­low­ing a re­port that his cam­paign in­structed vol­un­teers to speak poorly of her to win over un­de­cided vot­ers. The ten­sions es­ca­lated on Mon­day af­ter CNN re­ported San­ders told War­ren in 2018 that he didn’t think a woman could win the elec­tion, a charge San­ders vig­or­ously de­nied.

The feud­ing will likely ex­pand to in­clude nearly ev­ery can­di­date on stage. San­ders has re­cently stepped up his at­tacks on for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den over his past sup­port of the Iraq War, broad free-trade agree­ments and en­ti­tle­ment changes, among other is­sues.

Min­nesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has had sev­eral strong de­bates, will be look­ing for an­other op­por­tu­nity to high­light her can­di­dacy as she re­mains mired in the mid­dle of the pack in polling. Bil­lion­aire Tom Steyer will have to an­swer crit­i­cism that he’s buy­ing his way to the White House.

And with two sur­veys show­ing Pete But­tigieg los­ing sup­port in Iowa, the for­mer mayor of South Bend, In­di­ana, will need a break­out mo­ment to re­gain some mo­men­tum be­fore the Feb. 3 cau­cuses.

Those shift­ing dy­nam­ics mean Tues­day’s de­bate could be un­like any of the oth­ers that came be­fore it this cy­cle. The gen­er­ally po­lite dis­putes over pol­icy items in­clud­ing health care and im­mi­gra­tion are poised to be re­placed by in­creas­ingly bit­ter and per­sonal knocks. And it will hap­pen as many Demo­cratic vot­ers are just be­gin­ning to tune into the race.

“The de­bates are al­ways im­por­tant — but this one’s prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant for th­ese can­di­dates,” said Scott Brennan, a for­mer Iowa Demo­cratic Party chair­man and cur­rent com­mit­tee­man. “We’ve got at least four peo­ple who are bunched right there to­gether at the top. So how do you break out?”

The de­bate, which is be­ing held on the Des Moines cam­pus of Drake Univer­sity and will be tele­vised on CNN, marks the first fo­rum with an all-white lineup. Busi­ness­man An­drew Yang, an Asian Amer­i­can can­di­date who ap­peared in the De­cem­ber de­bate, failed to hit the polling thresh­old for Tues­day’s event. And New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker ended his cam­paign Mon­day af­ter he didn’t make the de­bate stage, leav­ing just one black can­di­date — for­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. De­val Patrick — in the race.

This will be the first de­bate since Pres­i­dent Donald Trump au­tho­rized the killing of Ira­nian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, which height­ened t en­sions through­out the Mid­dle East.

Bi­den ad­vis­ers see the de­vel­op­ment as a boon to his can­di­dacy, al­low­ing him to ar­gue he’s a steady, ex­pe­ri­enced al­ter­na­tive to Trump.

But it could eas­ily be­come a prob­lem if Bi­den fails to an­swer what will likely be pointed at­tacks from San­ders on his sup­port for the Iraq War.

While Bi­den ac­knowl­edged over a decade ago his vote was a mis­take, he has strug­gled to of­fer a clear an­swer for his sup­port, at times mis­lead­ingly as­sert­ing that he op­posed the war from the start.

San­ders is ea­ger to take the fight to Bi­den, as his ad­vis­ers be­lieve his mes­sage on in­come in­equal­ity and ma­jor struc­tural change can ap­peal to the same white work­ing-class vot­ers that make up much of Bi­den’s base.

But San­ders is less likely to con­tinue the feud that erupted with War­ren over the week­end.

Fol­low­ing a re­port in Politico that the San­ders cam­paign had in­structed some vol­un­teers to char­ac­ter­ize War­ren as a can­di­date for wealthy and welle­d­u­cated vot­ers in con­ver­sa­tions with un­de­cided vot­ers, War­ren is­sued a rare cri­tique of her op­po­nent, say­ing she was “dis­ap­pointed” he was in­struct­ing staffers to “trash” her and em­pha­siz­ing the need to nom­i­nate a uni­fy­ing can­di­date to de­feat Trump.

That echoed a new ar­gu­ment the War­ren cam­paign un­veiled this week­end: that she is the can­di­date who can best unify the dif­fer­ent fac­tions of the party, a case new en­dorser Julián Cas­tro made when in­tro­duc­ing the sen­a­tor in Iowa.

SCOTT OL­SON/GETTY

Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren chas­tised Sen. Bernie San­ders over the week­end af­ter a re­port that his cam­paign in­structed vol­un­teers to speak poorly of her to win un­de­cided vot­ers.

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