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Tuesday's Democratic debate could be most dramatic yet

Final debate before the Iowa caucus
Posted at 7:02 PM, Jan 13, 2020

Tuesday’s debate can be seen on CNN starting at 9 p.m. ET. The debate will be moderated by CNN host Wolf Blitzer, CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip and Des Moines Register chief politics reporter Brianne Pfannenstiel.

Just six candidates are set to take the stage at Tuesday's Democratic debate in Des Moines, Iowa, which marks the final debate before the Iowa caucus.

But given recent developments, Tuesday's debate could be one of the most contentious debates yet. A feud has boiled over between two of the most progressive candidates in the Democratic field, a spat between two candidates who generally have been allies during their Senate tenures.

Elizabeth Warren on Sunday accused fellow senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders of using his volunteers to disparage her.

“I was disappointed to hear that Bernie is sending his volunteers out to trash me,” Warren told reporters, according to the New York Times . “I hope Bernie reconsiders and turns his campaign in a different direction.”

For his part, Sanders attempted to distance himself from the accusations.

“Elizabeth Warren is a very good friend of mine,” Sanders told the New York Times. “We have worked together in the Senate for years. Elizabeth Warren and I will continue to work together, we will debate the issues.”

“No one is going to trash Elizabeth Warren,” he added.

On Monday, CNN reported that in a meeting between Sanders and Warren in late 2018, Sanders said to Warren that a woman could not win the presidency in a meeting at Warren’s Washington apartment.

Sanders issued a statement to CNN denying the allegations.

"It is ludicrous to believe that at the same meeting where Elizabeth Warren told me she was going to run for president, I would tell her that a woman couldn't win," Sanders told CNN. "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.”

The spat between the two campaigns adds to the stakes for Tuesday’s debate. Voters in Iowa go to the polls in three weeks, marking the first ballots cast in the 2020 presidential election.

Tuesday’s debate will feature just six candidates, making it the smallest debate field yet during the 2020 cycle. The candidates who qualified are ex-Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and billionaire Tom Steyer.

Notably not making the debate stage is Sen. Cory Booker, who failed to qualify for his second debate in a row. On Monday, he announced his decision to exit the 2020 field. Also not on the stage is former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg was a late entry into the 2020 field, and is not participating in the first four primaries.

Bloomberg has reportedly spent more than $200 million, millions of which in delegate-rich states such as California, New York, Texas and Florida. Bloomberg’s approach to entering the race is one that has not been replicated in recent elections. Bloomberg’s late entry also bucks conventional wisdom, as most campaigns take the fight to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire before expanding their campaign nationally.

Polling has shown the Democratic race is wide open. According to an aggregate of national polls compiled by Real Clear Politics , Biden is at the top of the field at 28.3 percent. Sanders is in second with 19.8 percent, Warren is third with 16 percent, Buttigieg is fourth with 7.5 percent, and Bloomberg is fifth with 5.8 percent.

But polling out of Iowa show a very narrow lead for Biden over Sanders in an aggregate of polls, with both Buttigieg and Warren close behind.

But this year’s Democratic race could resemble a marathon rather than a sprint. A change in Democratic Party rules eliminates the votes of so-called “superdelegates” on the first ballot, unless the race is not in question. This announcement, coupled with the party allocating primary and caucus delegates proportionally, mean it is likely that the race will continue well past Super Tuesday in March. There is also a possibility the race could remain contested going into this summer's convention.

One issue that has popped up in recent weeks is the United States’ involvement in the Middle East, specifically the United States’ attack on Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Soleimani’s death prompted a missile attack from Iran on two Iraqi bases that house US troops.

Justin Boggs is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @jjboggs or on Facebook .