- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2020

Six Democratic presidential candidates are set to debate for the seventh time Tuesday night, three weeks out from the Iowa caucuses. Here are five things to watch for when they take the stage at Drake University in Des Moines.

1. Is the Sanders-Warren non-aggression pact coming to an end?

Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have generally declined to attack one another directly, but there are signs that the unofficial “non-aggression” pact could be in jeopardy.

Ms. Warren said in a statement late Monday that among the topics that came up during a 2018 meeting with Mr. Sanders “was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate.”

“I thought a woman could win; he disagreed,” she said, confirming news that had broken earlier in the day about their conversation. “I have no interest in discussing this private meeting any further because Bernie and I have far more in common than our differences on punditry.”



Mr. Sanders had earlier denied making such a comment, telling CNN, which first reported the news citing unnamed sources: “It’s sad that, three weeks before the Iowa caucus and a year after that private conversation, staff who weren’t in the room are lying about what happened.”

Over the weekend, Ms. Warren hit back after Politico reported that Sanders campaign volunteers were being given a set of anti-Warren talking points to push on voters that cast the Massachusetts senator as a candidate of the elite.

“I was disappointed to hear that Bernie is sending his volunteers out to trash me. Bernie knows me and has known me for a long time,” Ms. Warren told reporters while campaigning in Iowa. “I hope Bernie reconsiders and turns his campaign in a different direction.”

Mr. Sanders tried to put some distance between himself and the script and suggested that the effort went on without him signing off on it.

But with just weeks to go until the caucuses, both Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders are trying to find some way to separate themselves from one another, and the informal pact could officially come to a close Tuesday.

2. How will Biden try to explain himself on Iraq?

The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq has been one of the defining issues for liberal activists over the past 15 years or so, and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden is having difficulty getting his story straight on the nature of his support for it.

Mr. Biden has tried to explain his 2002 vote to authorize the war by saying that former President George W. Bush misled him about the scope of the conflict and that Mr. Bush planned to use the authorization to conduct something of a fact-finding mission.

“Biden has said repeatedly that he regrets giving President Bush that authorization, because it was misused,” Tony Blinken, a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Biden’s campaign, told CNN on Monday. “Once we did go to war, Biden was immediately against the way we went into the war as well as the way it was being conducted.”

But the Sanders campaign tore into Mr. Biden over the weekend, saying it’s “appalling” that the former vice president is refusing to admit he was wrong.

“Unlike 23 of his Senate colleagues who got it right, Biden made explicitly clear that he was voting for the war … and even after the war started, he boasted that he didn’t regret it,” said Sanders campaign adviser Jeff Weaver.

Mr. Sanders’ team also highlighted a 2003 clip of Mr. Biden calling Mr. Bush a “bold leader” who is “popular” and warning against the cost of not finishing the job.

Mr. Sanders made Iraq a key point of distinction when he was vying for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But Mrs. Clinton acknowledged in a memoir that she got Iraq wrong, “plain and simple” — something Mr. Biden has been unable or unwilling to do.

3. Who has the best case to make to Democratic voters on Iran?

The 2020 Democrats have universally derided President Trump for the drone strike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, but they’ll have to make the case to voters as to why they’re best equipped to inherit what could be an even more explosive situation in the Middle East by this time next year.

Mr. Biden on Sunday tweeted support for Iranians rising up in protest of the leadership regime in the country, saying the Iranian people have the right to peacefully protest — a message in line with what Mr. Trump had said over the weekend.

“The world should support them,” said Mr. Biden, who has tried to pitch his years of foreign policy experience in Congress as a key selling point.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota followed suit, tweeting: “People should have the right to peacefully protest in any country, including Iran.”

Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has tried to emphasize his military experience in making the case that he’s best-equipped to handle foreign policy issues.

He turned some heads when he described Iran’s shooting down of a passenger airliner as part of a “tit for tat” with the U.S.

“Innocent civilians are now dead because they were caught in the middle of an unnecessary and unwanted military tit for tat,” he tweeted last week. “My thoughts are with the families and loved ones of all 176 souls lost aboard this flight.”

Mr. Sanders, meanwhile, has tried to emphasize his decades-long opposition to foreign wars as evidence that he should be the candidate of choice for a nation weary of entanglements in the Middle East.

4. Can Buttigieg make a pitch that resonates with black voters?

Mr. Buttigieg has faced persistent questions over his lack of support from black voters, and he didn’t get any help on that front over the weekend when Black Lives Matter activists crashed his campaign event.

He said on Sunday that part of the issue is when you’re new on the scene, “you have to make sure that you earn a level of credibility with voters who have felt taken for granted, especially by my party.”

“What we’re finding is where people know me best, my support is best in black communities,” he told The Nevada Independent. “We’re leading in my own community, among non-white as well as white voters. In the Midwest it’s stronger. In areas where I’m less known, the South and the West, we’ve got more work to do.”

Mr. Buttigieg also has faced scrutiny over community-police relations in South Bend, and it’s not clear how long he can continue to say black voters are still getting to know him with so little time until voters head to the polls.

He was at 2% support among black voters in a national Quinnipiac University poll released Monday, behind candidates who won’t be on Tuesday’s debate stage such as former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

5. Can Klobuchar and/or Steyer break through?

Ms. Klobuchar and billionaire former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer have attracted enough polling and fundraising support to be on Tuesday’s debate stage, but they’re sitting well back of the top four contenders in Iowa polling.

Ms. Klobuchar has turned heads with her recent debate performances, going toe-to-toe in exchanges with candidates such as Mr. Buttigieg that attracted attention afterward but didn’t translate into a sustained, significant polling bump.

Without a solid performance in Iowa, which shares a border with her home state of Minnesota, it could be difficult for her to attract the kind of financial support needed to soldier on in the race.

Meanwhile, Mr. Steyer qualified for the debate after a pair of last-minute polls in Nevada and South Carolina showed him surging to double digits.

Over the weekend, he downplayed the notion that his presence on the debate stage is directly tied to his ability to self-fund and dominate the airwaves, saying he qualified because of his “message.”

“I have a very simple message, which is, the government is broken. It’s been bought by corporations,” Mr. Steyer said on CNN. “I spent 10 years as an outsider putting together coalitions of American citizens to fight and beat those corporations. I’m the only person in this race who will say that his or her No. 1 priority is climate.”

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