Tensions flash between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders at Iowa Democratic presidential debate

John Fritze, Rebecca Morin, Maureen Groppe, Ledyard King and Michael Collins, USA TODAY

For much of the presidential campaign, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have avoided attacking each other. But at the CNN/Des Moines Register debate Tuesday, they took the gloves off, sparring over controversies that have further divided their supporters.

The debate was the final one before the Feb. 3 Iowa caucus.

Soon after the debate began, Sanders was asked about a comment he reportedly made to Warren during a previously undisclosed meeting that a woman could not beat President Donald Trump in November.

“As a matter of fact I didn’t say it,” Sanders said. “How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could become the president of the United States?”

Sanders referenced then Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's popular vote win over Trump in 2016.

But the debate’s moderators seemed not to accept that response, turning the exchange over to Warren by asking what her reaction was when Sanders uttered the remark.

“I disagreed,” Warren responded, adding that Sanders is “my friend.”

Warren turned the question into an argument for female candidates, repeatedly asserting that women candidates have historically "outperformed" their male counterparts.

That sparked one of the more awkward moments of the debate: When Warren said no one else on the stage had beaten a Republican incumbent in the past three decades (Warren herself defeated GOP Sen. Scott Brown in 2012 to claim her seat). Sanders fired back that he had defeated a Republican when he ran for Congress in 1990: Peter Smith.

“When?” Warren asked, counting the years with her fingers. “Wasn’t that 30 years ago?”

The tension carried over to post-debate, when the still-rolling cameras caught the two in what appeared to be a heated conversation and an abandoned effort to shake hands.

The discussion over female candidates came as Democrats have faced criticism from within over the lack of diversity in the field. All of the candidates on stage Tuesday, the front runners in polling and fundraising, are white. 

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., left and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., talk Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, after a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa. Candidate businessman Tom Steyer looks on.

Foreign policy emerged as a big issue in the debate among the six Democrats on stage.

With the world still smarting from last week’s confrontation between the U.S. and Iran, the candidates united in slamming Trump’s handling of escalating tensions with Tehran. Together they blasted the president for withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, but most also acknowledged they would retain some U.S. military presence in the Middle East.

That back-and-forth allowed Sanders to get in a dig against Joe Biden over his 2002 vote in the Senate to support the Iraq war.

Sanders called the Iraq war the “worst blunder in modern history.”

Biden acknowledged his vote was a mistake, but noted former President Barack Obama, who also opposed the Iraq war, nevertheless picked him to be his vice president in 2008. And then, Biden said, Obama tasked him with trying to extract the U.S. from the war.

“I was asked to bring troops home from that war,” Biden said, without mentioning that the result of that effort was mixed.

Democrats agreed on the need to expand access to higher education, but they continue to diverge on whether taxpayers should pay for the children of wealthy families.

"I don’t think subsidizing the children of millionaires and billionaires is the best use” of public money, Pete Buttigieg argued.

Both Warren and Sanders have called for eliminating tuition and fees at public colleges. Warren responded to Buttigieg by suggesting her proposal for a wealth tax would offset the potential cost of wealthy families sending students for free to college .

“We need a wealth tax in America,” she said. “What we really need to talk about is the bigger economic picture.”

The Iowa caucus next month will help define a narrowing field of candidates and the course of the race for the nomination.

Less than a week later, the candidates will be back on the debate stage Feb. 7 ahead of the New Hampshire primary.

Candidates pushed on potential vulnerabilities

As the debate neared the end, each of the candidates was asked to address a vulnerability that could keep them from being a strong candidate against President Trump.

Pete Buttigieg, who has lackluster support in polls from African-American voters, said the black voters who know him best – those in South Bend – do back him. Buttigieg also touted the endorsements he recently received from a member of the congressional black caucus and from the African-American mayor of Waterloo, Iowa.

Bernie Sanders said running as a Democratic Socialist will not be a disadvantage because his form of socialism embraces positions appealing to voters: universal health care, increasing the minimum wage and the Green New Deal.

Asked how he can convince voters that he’s more than just his extensive fortune, Tom Steyer said that Trump’s biggest advantage is the strong economy – and he can use his 30 years of business experience to take that on.

“I can beat Trump on the economy,” he said. “We’re going to have to beat him on the economy.”

Amy Klobuchar said her message of pragmatism can be inspiring to voters because she will be a contrast to Trump while relating to people in the middle of the country, where she is from. “I can look at him and say, `You treated these workers and farmers like poker chips,’” she said. “They’re my friends and neighbors.”

Asked whether she would scare away swing voters, Elizabeth Warren brought up her roots in Oklahoma and the fact that two of her brothers are Republicans. Warren said there are a lot of things they agree on, including that it’s outrageous that some corporations can make billions in profits while paying no taxes.

Joe Biden said he’s prepared to take on Trump because he’s already had to do it.

 “I’ve been the object of his affection now more than anybody else on this stage,” he said.

– Maureen Groppe

Candidates agree on climate change but split on solutions

Amy Klobuchar wants to continue to allow fracking because natural gas serves as a “transition fuel” to help reduce carbon emissions.

Tom Steyer would declare a state of emergency on climate “on day one” of his presidency because the threat posed by a warming planet demands nothing less.

Bernie Sanders would transform the country’s energy grid from fossil fuels to renewable energy “right now” by implementing the Green New Deal, the liberal blueprint that would radically change the country’s economy.

“We have got to take on the fossil fuel industry and all of their lies, and tell them that whatever short-term profits are not more important than the future of this planet,” he said, mentioning the fires in Australia and the recent floods in Iowa.

All six candidates on stage have taken positions that contrast starkly with Trump’s America-first energy plan that calls for more coal mining and an off-shore drilling expansion off all of America’s coasts.

At one point, moderator Brianne Pfannenstiel asked Steyer if he was the right messenger on climate change since he used to invest in oil, coal and gas companies when he ran a hedge fund.

“I absolutely am,” he responded, noting he pulled money out of those interests more than a decade ago. “I beat oil companies in terms of clean air laws. I fought the Keystone Pipeline. I have a history over a decade of leading the climate fight successfully. So, yes, I am the one here who has the chops and I make it priority one because I’ve been doing it for a long time.”

– Ledyard King

Biden: Trump’s trash-talk about his family ‘irrelevant’

Moderator Wolf Blitzer noted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is ready to send impeachment articles against President Trump over to the Senate, which is likely to acquit him.

Given how Trump has repeatedly attacked Joe Biden and his family, will it be harder for the former vice president to run against Trump this fall if Trump can claim he has been vindicated? Blitzer asked.

“It’s irrelevant,” Biden said. “There’s no choice but for Nancy Pelosi and the House to move. He has in fact committed impeachable offenses. Whether the Senate makes that judgment or not, it’s for them to decide.”

The question, Biden said, is whether or not Trump has done his job.

“He hasn’t done his job,” Biden said, “and it doesn’t really matter whether he has gone after me.”

Biden said he cannot hold a grudge if he’s elected president, even though Trump and the GOP have “savaged” his son, Hunter Biden.

The impeachment charges against Trump were triggered by his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

– Michael Collins

Warren, Biden recount child care struggles

When the topic turned to child care, an issue that hasn’t gotten much attention in past debates, candidates called it a priority. And some brought in their personal experiences.

Elizabeth Warren, who said her wealth tax would fund universal child care, talked about trying to juggle her first real teaching job as the mother of two small children. Warren said she was ready to quit her job until her aunt stepped in to help.

“I’ve been there,” Warren said. “It was child care that really brought me down.”

Joe Biden said he had to commute by train from Delaware to Washington every day after his wife was killed in a car accident because he couldn’t afford child care.

“I was a single parent too,” Biden said.

Biden touted a plan that would spend more on low-income, Title I schools that would provide full-time schooling for children as young as three years old.

He also mentioned a proposal to provide an annual $8,000 tax credit to help as many as 7 million mothers rejoin the full-time labor market and advocated for higher pay for child care workers though offered no details on how to increase their pay.

The child care question came up in response to a question from an Iowa young mom who said she had to quit a job she loved because child care was consuming two-thirds of her income.

Pete Buttigieg said that made no sense and “it must change.” He said the cost should be driven to 7% or less of a person’s income and nothing for those in poverty.

Democratic presidential hopefuls billionaire-philanthropist Tom Steyer, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar speak during the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 14, 2020.

If the nation can do that, Buttigieg added, that could address one of the biggest drivers in the gender pay gap. Women get behind in salary when they drop in and out of the job market to care for children, he said.

– Maureen Groppe and Ledyard King

Free tuition for the rich?

Democrats widely agree on expanding access to higher education. But throughout the campaign they have strenuously disagreed about whether taxpayers should pay for the children of wealthy families for that benefit.

That major divide continued Tuesday.  

“I don’t want costs ever to be a barrier,” Pete Buttigieg said. But, he said, “I don’t think subsidizing the children of millionaires and billionaires is the best use” of public money.

Elizabeth Warren wants to eliminate tuition and fees at two-year and four-year public colleges. Bernie Sanders has proposed making public universities and colleges free and erasing roughly $1.6 trillion in student loan debt owed in the U.S.

Warren shifted to the idea of a wealth tax to offset the potential cost of wealthy families sending their children to public universities for free.

“We need a wealth tax in America,” she said. “What we really need to talk about is the bigger economic picture.”

– John Fritze

Warren: Give drug manufacturers ‘a little competition’

Elizabeth Warren said she would use executive authority to lower prices on certain drugs, such as insulin and HIV medications, if she is elected president.

Warren also defended her belief the government should be allowed to manufacture prescription drugs if there is a shortage or a price spike.

“Let’s give them a little competition,” she said of drug manfacturers.

Democratic presidential hopeful Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks during the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020.

Amy Klobuchar said she would be open to that approach but wants to try other ideas first, such as allowing Americans to buy less expensive drugs from other countries.

– Michael Collins

Debate Klobuchar-isms

Amy Klobuchar, hoping for a breakout moment in Iowa, is at the very least breaking out the one-liners at this debate.

Klobuchar described long-term health care as the “elephant that doesn’t even fit in the room.”

Describing rising budget deficits, Klobuchar described Trump as “feeding people…poker chips in one of his bankrupt casinos.”

At one point, in describing her father’s struggles with health care, Klobuchar joked that: “He got married three times – whole other story there.”

Democratic presidential hopeful Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar participates of the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020.

– John Fritze

Sanders, Warren quibble over record of winning elections

If you we’re trying to anticipate what Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would end up scrapping over, you probably wouldn’t have guessed they would go back and forth over whether Sanders defeated a Republican incumbent decades ago.

In the debate over whether Sanders told Warren in 2018 that a woman can’t be elected president, Warren said the only candidates on the stage who have won every election they’ve run are the two women.

After the sustained applause from the audience, Warren also said she’s the only candidate who has beaten a Republican incumbent in the last 30 years.

Sanders interjected that he defeated one when he ran for Congress in 1990: Peter Smith.

“When?” Warren asked, as she appeared to tabulate the years with her fingers. “Wasn’t that 30 years ago?”

When Sanders said it was, Warren reiterated that she said she’s the only one who’s beaten a Republican incumbent “in 30 years.”

– Maureen Groppe 

Candidates spar over Mexico Canada trade deal

Democratic candidates clashed over a new trade agreement that the Trump administration negotiated with Mexico and Canada.

Bernie Sanders said he will vote against the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement when it comes before the Senate this week, even though he conceded it would make modest improvements over its predecessor, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“We could do much better,” Sanders said.

Sanders argued the agreement would result in the U.S. continuing to lose thousands of good-paying jobs because American companies will have to compete with low-wage workers in Mexico and Canada. He also complained that climate change is not mentioned in the agreement.

Elizabeth Warren said she supports the new trade pact. She said it wasn't perfect but “it will give some relief to our farmers. It will give some relief to our workers.”

Lawmakers should approve the pact and then immediately start pushing for a better deal, Warren said.

Sanders countered that reopening the negotiations would be difficult. “If this is passed, I think it will set us back a number of years,” he said.

Pete Buttigieg said while the new trade deal makes improvements, “it is not perfect.”

Tom Steyer said that, if elected president, he would not sign the new trade deal because it doesn’t deal with climate change.

– Michael Collins

Warren, Sanders clash over 'woman'  comment

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren got into a debate over a major controversy that erupted in the days leading up to the debate: Whether Sanders had told Warren that a woman could not win the presidency.  

“As a matter of fact I didn’t say it,” Sanders said. “How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could become the president of the United States?”

Moderator Abby Phillip appeared not to buy his answer: What did you think when Bernie Sanders told you that a woman could not be president, Phillip asked Warren.

“I disagreed,” Warren said, adding that Sanders is “my friend.”

Warren turned the question into an argument for female candidates, repeatedly arguing that women candidates "outperform" male candidates.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks as former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (R) listen during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register.

“The only people on this stage who have won every single election they've been in are the women,” she said.  

– John Fritze

Bloomberg having ‘fun’ even though he’s not on debate stage

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign promised to tweet “Fun stuff.”

And it is using its Twitter account (@mike2020) to inject a little levity.

“What’s your #DemDebate #DebateSnack? If you want to sample Mike’s spicy guacamole, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Mike 2020 headquarters and Mike will send you a scoop!” reads one tweet.

Another asks followers “WHICH WILD ANIMAL WOULD BE MOST FUN TO RELEASE ONTO THE DEBATE STAGE WITHOUT WARNING?”

And how about this one? “Scientists estimate it would take Donald Trump roughly 87 years to spell the name of moderator Brianne Pfannenstiel correctly.”

Pfannenstiel, a political writer for the Des Moines Register, is one of the debate’s three moderators.

Bloomberg did not qualify for the debate in Des Moines, the last one before the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses that kick off the presidential nomination process.

But the former mayor is scheduled to appear tonight on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

“You’re one of the only people I’d stay up this late for,” Bloomberg tweeted at Colbert.

– Ledyard King

Iran nukes, North Korea meeting

The debate moderators put several questions to the candidates on foreign policy, seeking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Would they allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon?

Pete Buttigieg: “No,” he said. “Ensuring that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon will of course be a priority.”

Amy Klobuchar: “I would not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”

Would they meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un without preconditions, as President Donald Trump has done?

Joe Biden: “No, not now,” he said, though the moderators noted that former President Barack Obama, as a candidate, once said he would have such a meeting with North Korean leadership. “We’ve given him everything he was looking for,” Biden said of Kim. “Legitimacy.”

– John Fritze

Would Democrats withdraw from the Middle East?

The Democratic candidates largely agree they oppose President Donald Trump’s approach to Iran. What they have been less clear on is how their overall approach to the Middle East would be different.

Both Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar acknowledged they would leave some “small number” of troops in the Middle East.

Joe Biden drew a distinction between combat troops and special forces, arguing the latter would still have a role to play in the region under his administration. “They’ll come back if we do not deal with them,” Biden said, referring to the Islamic State and other U.S. foes in the region.  

Elizabeth Warren took a more direct approach: “I think we need to get our combat troops out...our keeping combat troops there is not helping.”

– John Fritze

Biden defends Obama's nuclear deal with Iran

In a segment on foreign policy, Joe Biden argued the U.S. should return to the nuclear deal that the U.S. and six other countries negotiated with Iran in 2015.

“It was working” Biden said.

Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement in 2018, “we are now isolated,” Biden said. “We have lost our standing in the region. We have lost the support of our allies.”

Pete Buttigieg said preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon would be a top priority if he is elected president. But Trump made it harder for the next president to achieve that goal when he withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, Buttigieg said.

“By gutting that (agreement), they have made the region more dangerous and set off the chain of events we are dealing with” now, Buttigieg said.

– Michael Collins

First question gives Sanders a shot at Biden

The first question gave Sen. Bernie Sanders the chance to continue a criticism he’s been making about former Vice President Joe Biden.

Asked why he would be the best commander-in-chief at a time when U.S. tensions with Iran have been rising, Sanders said he led the opposition to the war in the Iraq. He’s gone heavy after Biden for voting to authorize use of force.

Pressed on why his vote backing the war in Afghanistan is different from Biden’s vote for the Iraq war, Sanders called the Iraq war the “worst blunder in modern history.”

Biden responded that he’s acknowledged that his vote was a mistake. But former President Barack Obama, who also opposed the Iraq war, picked Biden to be his running mate, Biden said. And then Obama asked his vice president to help end the war.

“I was asked to bring troops home from that war,” Biden said of Iraq.

– Maureen Groppe

(L-R) Democratic presidential hopefuls Former Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders participate of the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020.

Debate underway in Iowa

Perhaps the most important debate so far among the Democratic candidates for president is underway in Iowa. It’s the final debate before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3. It’s the smallest number of candidates on stage so far: Six. And it comes as the candidates in the race are increasingly at each other’s throats in the final weeks before voting begins.

The Democrats are debating as the world is still reeling from the U.S. confrontation with Iran last week. The Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is expected to begin next week. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are locked in a bitter dispute over whether Sanders claimed a woman cannot beat Trump in 2020. Biden’s so-far durable lead in polling has shown some signs of weakness in early primary states.   

Polling shows a tight contest in Iowa, with Joe Biden, Sanders, Warren and Pete Buttigieg bunched at the top. Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer are also on stage, hoping for a late breakout moment that can propel their candidacies to the top tier. 

– John Fritze

Democratic presidential hopefuls billionaire-philanthropist Tom Steyer, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen.or Bernie Sanders, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar speak during the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 14, 2020.

Trump: ‘I don’t believe’ Sanders said a woman can’t win

Speaking at a rally in Wisconsin, President Donald Trump waded into a controversy likely to feature on stage when Democrats debate in Iowa.

Trump said he didn’t believe Bernie Sanders could have suggested a woman couldn’t win the presidency in 2020.

“I don’t believe that Bernie said that,” Trump told the raucous crowd in Milwaukee. “I really don’t.”

It was an unusual aside for Trump, who minutes earlier embraced his “Crazy Bernie” nickname for Sanders and once again described him as surging. Trump has hinted he would rather face one of the more liberal Democratic candidates seeking the nomination, either Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci) ORG XMIT: WIEV115

The two have been locked in increasingly bitter sniping after CNN reported this week that Sanders told Warren during a previously undisclosed meeting that he felt a woman couldn’t beat Trump in November. Sanders has denied the allegation but Warren has backed up the account, saying Monday that: "I thought a woman could win; he disagreed."

– John Fritze

Candidates rack up new endorsements

Endorsements of candidates have been increasing as voting gets closer – and several campaigns rolled out more before the debate.

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg snagged the backing of Waterloo, Iowa, Mayor Quentin Hart. Iowa media described it as a big get because Hart is the first black mayor of Iowa’s most diverse city. One of the questions dogging Buttigieg is whether he can increase his support among African Americans, a crucial voting block for Democrats.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar picked up the endorsement of Iowa state Rep. Charlie McConkey. He had previously supported New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who ended his campaign Monday.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced the endorsement of Rep. Joaquin Castro, the Texas Democrat who heads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He’s also the brother of former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian Castro, who backed Warren after giving up his own quest for the nomination.

Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, left, stands with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., after introducing her during a campaign event, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Marshalltown, Iowa.

Former Vice President Joe Biden racked up the support of 13 more state representatives in New Hampshire as well as the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey. Malinowski is the fifth House member representing a district that Democrats view as the most competitive to back Biden.

Although businessman Andrew Yang failed to qualify for tonight’s debate, comedian Dave Chappelle announced he will perform two shows in South Carolina at the end of the month to benefit the campaign.

“I’m Yang Gang!” Chappelle said.

– Maureen Groppe

From potty breaks to podiums: CNN, Drake ready for their presidential debate close-up

DNC defense: 'We can't change the rules midstream'

Trump’s counterprogramming

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are rallying the base in Milwaukee tonight.

A screen was set up outside the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena to accommodate any overflow crowd in a state that will be hotly contested.

“Wisconsin made a huge difference last time,” Pence said during a stop at a local restaurant on his way to the arena.

Before the Democrats’ debate, the Trump campaign planned to fly a banner over Des Moines reading: “TRUMP FIGHTS FOR IOWA FARMERS!”

Elizabeth Sorenson, left, and her sister-in-law Linda Sorenson, behind flag, were the first in line for President Donald Trump's campaign rally. They set up their chairs at 4:30 p.m. Monday in the parking lot across from the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. Doors open at 3 p.m. Tuesday for the 7 p.m. rally.

Trump plans to visit the state on Jan. 30, when he'll hold a rally in Des Moines just four days before the Iowa caucuses.

Challenging Trump for the GOP nomination are former Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld.

But in the latest Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll, seven out of ten Iowa Republicans who do not plan to caucus for Democrats said they would definitely vote to re-elect Trump.

– Maureen Groppe

More: Yes, Iowa Republicans plan to hold caucuses in 2020

I was busy anyway

Candidates who failed to meet the donation and polling thresholds set by the Democratic National Committee for the debate are finding other ways of getting attention.

Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland stopped to help clear ice from a sidewalk while door knocking in Osceola Tuesday as part of a 40-town tour of rural Iowa.

During the debate, Delaney will air a statewide ad telling voters he’s the only candidate “with a real plan to bring jobs and entrepreneurship to small towns.”

Inside Sheslow Auditorium where preparation is underway for the CNN/Des Moines Register Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020.

Businessman Andrew Yang, the only candidate who was in December’s debate and failed to qualify for tonight’s stage, held a town hall in Ames Tuesday morning.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign promised to tweet “Fun stuff. The best stuff” during the debate. Afterwards, Bloomberg is appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

“You’re one of the only people I’d stay up this late for,” Bloomberg tweeted at Colbert.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick tweeted a lament that no candidates of color will be on stage. (Patrick and Yang didn’t qualify; former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian Castro and Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris have dropped out of the race.)

“Democrats cannot win in November without voters of color,” Patrick tweeted, “and more importantly, neither can America.”

– Maureen Groppe

More: What does it say about Democrats when all 6 candidates in the Iowa debate are white?

Sanders: 'Of course' I think a woman could beat Trump

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s claim that Sen. Bernie Sanders once told her he didn’t think a woman could beat President Donald Trump in 2020 has raised a larger question about the electability of a female candidate to the White House.

A USA TODAY/Ipsos poll conducted in August found that half of likely Democratic voters said a woman would have a harder time than a man running against Trump.

And while nearly nine in 10 of those voters said they would be comfortable with a female president, a smaller number, only 44% of voters likely to cast ballots in Democratic primaries thought their neighbors would be comfortable with a female commander-in-chief, according to the online survey.

Among all voters, that number dropped to 37%.

The survey was based on responses from 2,012 adults, including 923 Democrats and independents who say they "are probably or certainly" going to participate in the 2020 Democratic primaries.

In response to media reports, Warren Monday issued a statement that Sanders "disagreed" a woman could beat Trump while they were discussing the upcoming election. Both senators are vying for the Democratic presidential nomination and will be on the debate stage in Des Moines tonight.

Sanders called Warren’s claim “ludicrous" in a lengthy statement Monday.

"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," Sanders said. “Do I believe a woman can win in 2020? Of course! After all Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 3 million votes in 2016.”

Iowa debate: What you need to know, when is it, how to watch it

In an interview last fall, Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said the difficulty of envisioning a  woman in the White House is based on the simple fact that it hasn’t happened yet.

“We will cross this ultimate electability hurdle when a woman is elected and then we won’t have to question all the time whether a woman can be elected,” she said.

– Ledyard King

More: Warren says she would cancel student debt on Day 1

Things are getting real

Polls show that the Iowa caucus is a toss-up, as is the New Hampshire primary a week later.

The four locked in a close competition to claim the first ticket out of Iowa are former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is still hoping to break into the top tier in Iowa, where she's heavily focused.

Political activist Tom Steyer is trying to expand beyond the name recognition he's built in polls through his extensive advertising.

Those who didn't meet the Democratic National Committee's participation rules for the debate but are still competing include former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, businessman Andrew Yang, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and former U.S. Rep. John Delaney.

In the last debate in December, Buttigieg took the most incoming fire. But with polls indicating his momentum may have stalled, the three other top candidates may focus the most on each other.

Hours before the debate, Sanders released a video accusing Biden of having led the Senate fight to go to war with Iraq, voting for “disastrous” trade deals, repeatedly calling for cuts to Social Security and pushing for a bill that made it harder for people to declare bankruptcy.

Inside Sheslow Auditorium where preparation is underway for the CNN/Des Moines Register Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020.

And in stark contrast with their previous non-aggression pact despite competing for the party’s most liberal wing, Sanders and Warren have been going after each other in recent days. Some Sanders’ volunteers have been telling voters that Warren can’t expand the party’s appeal beyond highly-educated, affluent Democrats. Warren said that Sanders told her in 2018 that he didn’t think a woman could win the presidency – a charge he vehemently denied.

"Watching this Elizabeth – Bernie dynamic is upsetting," Yang tweeted Tuesday. "We have big problems to solve and both want to solve them. I’m sure that’s where they would want our attention focused too."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Iowa Democratic debate: Sanders, Biden, Warren, Klobuchar, Buttigieg