January’s Democratic debate could wind up being the most important of the 2020 primary. It’s the final face-off between candidates before the Iowa caucuses on February 3, the results of which will likely jumble the field ahead of primaries and caucuses in New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, and California.
Winning Iowa turned John Kerry and Barack Obama from underdogs to frontrunners in 2004 and 2008, respectively, and it could do the same for one of the six candidates who debated on Tuesday — especially if the victor is someone other than former Vice President Joe Biden.
Any one of Biden, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg could be ahead in the state, depending on the polling you believe, and with the race that close, a standout performance on Tuesday night could tip the scales to the eventual victor.
The debate was not an especially flashy event with a runaway winner. But here’s our best guess as to who left the night worse off, and who heads to the caucuses with the wind at their back.
Winner: Bernie Sanders An Iowa win might very well propel Sanders to the nomination. He’s already very well positioned narrowly behind Biden in New Hampshire and leads in California.
And while there wasn’t one breakout winner in Tuesday’s debate, Sanders had a great night. He solidly owned discussions of health care and climate change, and he solidified his status, recently regained from Warren, as the leading voice of the party’s left.
Immediately after the debate Tuesday night, Sen. Elizabeth Warren confronted Sen. Bernie Sanders over their dueling accounts on whether he told her that he didn’t believe a woman could defeat President Donald Trump during a private meeting in late 2018.
"I think you called me a liar on national TV," Warren told Sanders on stage after they both offered perfunctory “good job” greetings to other rivals, according to audio captured by CNN, which co-hosted the debate with the Des Moines Register.
"What?" Sanders replied, according to CNN’s report.
"I think you called me a liar on national TV," she said again.
"You know, let's not do it right now. If you want to have that discussion, we'll have that discussion," Sanders responded,
Warren replied: "Anytime."
That appeared to have irked Sanders who then said: "You called me a liar."
He added: "You told me — all right, let's not do it now."
The extraordinary exchange is a rare insight into how tense the relationship between the two progressive senators — who have long considered each other friends and comrades in a broader fight for the Democratic Party‘s future — has become over the course of the presidential race. The Warren campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Asked if they wanted to comment about the exchange, a Sanders spokesperson said: “Nah.”
Joe Biden leads the Democratic field in Iowa, according to a new poll out Monday, two weeks before the Feb. 3 caucuses.
The Focus on Rural America poll shows the former vice president with 24 percent and the next three top-tier candidates bunched behind him, with Elizabeth Warren at 18 percent, Pete Buttigieg at 16 percent and Bernie Sanders at 14 percent. Amy Klobuchar clocked in at 11 percent.
The survey of 500 likely 2020 caucus goers, conducted January 15-18, and had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
There’s some indication that Warren and Sanders suffered fallout from their recent spat — including during and after last week's debate — over whether a woman could beat President Donald Trump. Warren contended Sanders told her in a private 2018 conversation that he did not believe a woman could win, which Sanders denied.
When asked if there was a candidate they would not support based on the debate, 12 percent of those surveyed said Warren and 11 percent said Sanders. The next highest was billionaire Tom Steyer at 4 percent.
NBC News and MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle and Jennifer Bendery, of HuffPost, host a forum on the federal judiciary with Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Michael Bennet, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Governor Deval Patrick, Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Andrew Yang.