Democrats Warn Warren, Sanders Against Attacking Their Own

‘I thought—are you just feeling like you’re going down in the polls and you’re going to pull this out? Which kind of pisses me off because I’ve liked her…’

Dem. Operatives Warn Warren, Sanders Against Attacking Their Own

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders / PHOTO: Associated Press

(Associated Press) Ann Stromquist watched this week’s Democratic presidential debate like the research scientist she is.

She studied the candidates’ answers carefully, looking for something to help her make a final decision between supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren when Iowa holds the nation’s first caucus in a few weeks.

She didn’t find it.

Not in the more than two hours of discussions about policy differences, and certainly not in the “he said-she said” over a comment Warren said Sanders made to her in 2018, a dispute that drew a scolding from this Iowan.


“What I think about the squabble is: Get over it,” said the 76-year-old Stromquist, who is leaning toward supporting Warren when she and her husband, a retired professor, caucus on the University of Iowa campus near their home on Feb. 3. “To me that’s not a big deal. Let’s talk about the future.”

The dispute has caused days of hand wringing among the most intensely focused activists about how it might change the race and prompted sometimes-ugly social media exchanges between the camps. But it seems to have landed with a thud among Iowa progressives.

In interviews across the state, Democrats wearily described it as somewhere on the spectrum of “not a big deal” to “a contrived kerfuffle.” Few said it would stick with them come caucus day.

The response, or lack of, echoes an undercurrent that has run throughout the race for the Democratic nomination, perhaps especially in earnest Iowa: Democrats aren’t in the mood for a throw-down intra-party fight.

It’s a sentiment voters often say, even as they respond to attack ads that take direct hits. But this time, many Democrats said seem to be trying their hardest to keep their eyes on the ultimate goal: defeating President Donald Trump.

“That is a motivating factor for all of us to come together,” said Terry McAuliffe, a former party chairman and Virginia governor. Echoing his close personal friend and former boss, Hillary Clinton, McAuliffe (who also served on the board of the beleaguered Clinton Foundation) said he hopes any extended nomination fight doesn’t go on too long, lest it shake Democrats’ focus.

The candidates who’ve taken the most direct shots have not been rewarded for the effort. Kamala Harris got only a momentary bounce when she hammered Biden’s record on school busing in the desegregation period following the civil rights movement. She dropped out of the race last month.

Eric Swalwell and Julian Castro got nowhere with debate-stage suggestions that Biden, now 77, is too old for the job. Tulsi Gabbard got headlines for her broadsides on Harris’ criminal justice record, but she couldn’t qualify for the most recent debate.

“I just want to see politicians in general conduct themselves with a little more kindness and respect,” said Ashley Stanislav, 35, from Orange City, Iowa, a town in the Republican-leaning northwest corner of the state.

Stanislav says she’s deciding between Buttigieg and Warren, and said this week’s episode didn’t put any points on the board for Warren, especially when she heard Warren refused to shake Sanders hand after the debate.

“I think people we elect should lead by example,” Stanislav said.

The disagreement over the two senators’ private discussion reached a national audience Tuesday night after Warren said Sanders told her during the 2018 meeting that a woman couldn’t get elected president.

Sanders has denied saying it, and did so again during the debate in Iowa.

After the debate, Warren and Sanders each were captured on a hot microphone as Warren wouldn’t shake Sanders’ outstretched hand, saying “I think you called me a liar on national TV.”

Jenny Wolfe, a massage therapist from Iowa City, considered supporting Warren this year but decided to stick with Sanders, whom she caucused for in 2016. Like many voters, she believes there was a misunderstanding about what was said, but added that she can’t imagine Sanders would say that a woman couldn’t become president.

“I don’t even know why she would say it now,” Wolfe said. “I thought—are you just feeling like you’re going down in the polls and you’re going to pull this out? Which kind of pisses me off because I’ve liked her.”

Amanda West, 38, summed it all up as a “he said-she said” where there’s no way to know the truth, and no point in trying to argue it.

West, a mother of two from Iowa City, is searching for a candidate to support after her other choices — Sen. Cory Booker and author Marianne Williamson — dropped out.

“It’s disappointing all around that that’s where the conversation is at because I think there are much more important things,” West said. “One of them should be better at being on the team. I don’t know which one it is.”