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Westlake Legal Group > Buttigieg, Pete (1982- )

How People of Color Inside the Buttigieg Campaign Sought to Be Heard

Westlake Legal Group 00buttigieg-campaign1-facebookJumbo How People of Color Inside the Buttigieg Campaign Sought to Be Heard Workplace Environment Presidential Election of 2020 Patton, Stephen R Minorities discrimination Democratic Party Buttigieg, Pete (1982- )

In early December, more than 100 members of Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign staff gathered at the South Bend City Church a mile from headquarters for a mandatory half-day retreat about diversity and inclusion. Less than two months remained before the start of voting, a time when most campaigns are focused full-time on politics.

Buttigieg advisers say the retreat was part of an ongoing effort to foster a progressive culture that empowered employees of color. For some of these staff members, however, the workplace itself was a problem, and working for a candidate with so little support from black and Hispanic voters had become demoralizing.

In interviews, current and former staff members of color said they believed that senior Buttigieg officials didn’t listen to their concerns and ideas about the campaign. One said there was a daily “emotional weight” on people of color who felt they were employed in order to help the campaign meet its ambitious diversity targets. Some Hispanic employees felt disrespected when managers asked them to translate text, even if they didn’t speak Spanish.

A follow-up meeting nearly two weeks after the retreat — organized by staff members — became emotional, according to two people who attended. Some employees of color spoke about feeling disrespected by white colleagues. Others said they felt stressed from having to answer questions from friends and family members about working for a candidate struggling with minority voters, the two people said.

A second meeting, on Jan. 2, featured lengthy discussions of the importance of diversity in hiring and sometimes tearful descriptions of the difficulty of recruiting people of color to the staff, according to a recording of the session that was provided to The New York Times.

One employee also recalled a troubling incident for staff members of color: The campaign had planned a fund-raiser with a donor who had helped try to suppress the release of video showing the police shooting of a black Chicago teenager. Some members of the vetting team had warned against doing the fund-raiser with the donor as co-host. Campaign fund-raising officials proceeded anyway, and at the last minute, amid an outcry, were forced to remove the donor as co-host and return his donation.

The Buttigieg campaign’s focus on staff diversity resembles, on one level, efforts found at many organizations. But most campaigns are fast-growing, fast-moving enterprises that rarely have time or money for in-depth workplace self-assessments or extensive inclusion and training programs. The situation at Buttigieg’s headquarters also stands out as unusual because of the unique set of pressures on a campaign and a candidate trying to become a trusted voice on matters of race.

Interviews with half a dozen current and former staff members — and a review of internal documents, emails and the recording — show how the campaign and its employees grappled with goals and grievances related to diversity. Those interviewed insisted on anonymity, citing nondisclosure agreements or fear of retribution.

In addition, the Buttigieg campaign made other employees available to discuss its handling of workplace issues.

In a statement, Mr. Buttigieg, 38, who recently finished his second term as mayor of South Bend, Ind., nodded to those challenges and struck a progressive tone in emphasizing the importance of supporting his staff.

“We’re proud of the staffers who stood up and made their voices heard to help our campaign improve and be more inclusive,” Mr. Buttigieg said. “We realize that we can always do better and these honest discussions are how we make progress, and we will continue to provide our staff the safe space to have them.” His campaign provided the statement in response to questions about the operation.

Vernon Gair, the accounting director for the campaign, who was made available by officials there, said that because of Mr. Buttigieg’s struggle to attract black voters, the campaign had to meet a higher bar internally in addressing the concerns of minority employees. “We can’t just be good enough on these issues — our candidates, and our teams,” Mr. Gair, who is black, said in an interview.

He said he was a member of what the campaign called “bridge” groups aimed at providing support to staff members who were members of certain affinity groups, including black and L.G.B.T.Q. employees. Mr. Gair said his group had conveyed some of its frustrations to the campaign manager, Mike Schmuhl, who took the time to listen. Mr. Gair declined to be specific about the frustrations.

After this article was published on Tuesday, the Buttigieg campaign posted a lengthy explanation of its diversity efforts online. “Pete for America is committed to creating trusted environments for issues to be raised and addressed within, across and outside the campaign,” the campaign wrote. “We are proud of our efforts and we are especially proud of our staff.”

After a town-hall-style event in Ottumwa, Iowa, on Tuesday, Mr. Buttigieg dodged a question about whether or not he had discussed the article with his staff.

“I want everyone on our team to know that I’m proud of them, I’m thankful for them and I support them,” he said, adding that the campaign had tried “to empower staffers at all levels to be able to speak to their experiences, to raise concerns and to have these tough conversations, and they are tough.”

Asked as he was walking away whether he had apologized to staff members of color who might have felt marginalized while working on his campaign, Mr. Buttigieg did not respond.

While concerns about diversity are not uncommon for people working in other political campaigns, the flurry of activity inside Buttigieg headquarters related to workplace culture is unusual so close to the start of voting, said Donna Brazile, a veteran of Democratic presidential campaigns since 1984.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this,” Ms. Brazile said. “Not in ’08 and never in 2016.”

Robby Mook, who managed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, said campaigns were becoming more open to hearing from junior staff members whose concerns in the past may have been largely ignored by top officials.

“On any campaign, regardless of your staff, it’s really hard, pressure builds and it’s important to take a pause and ask people how it’s going,” Mr. Mook said. “And sometimes those meetings can be tough.”

While polling still shows Mr. Buttigieg in a deep hole with black Democrats — a recent Washington Post survey found he had just 2 percent support nationwide — he has exhibited some signs of progress among black elected officials. In the last month, he has won endorsements from Representative Anthony Brown of Maryland; Mayor Quentin Hart of Waterloo, Iowa; and Deborah Berry, a former Iowa state representative from Waterloo.

Still, skepticism remains even among some Buttigieg supporters about his ability to win over black voters. At two separate Iowa events on Monday, Mr. Buttigieg faced questions from voters about how he will win more support from African-Americans.

From the beginning, Mr. Buttigieg’s inner circle of top advisers, most of whom are white, went to great lengths to hire a diverse staff, and they say they reached their target number: forty percent people of color, a high proportion that is usually a plus for campaign outreach to voters of color. Chris Meagher, a spokesman, said the campaign had made an effort to hire people of color in leadership positions, including Brandon Neal, a senior adviser.

The campaign held an initial staff retreat that included a session on diversity in May, then held the December retreat in South Bend and scheduled local retreats in December and January for workers in Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina, Mr. Meagher said.

Yet as Mr. Buttigieg rose in the polls through last year, his struggle to win over black voters became the biggest threat to his chances, and pained many minority staff members.

Early in the campaign, he faced questions as mayor about his decision in 2012 to fire Darryl Boykins, South Bend’s first black police chief. Then, in June, the fatal shooting of a black resident by a white police officer in South Bend presented perhaps the biggest crisis of his candidacy. Mr. Buttigieg was briefly forced off the campaign trail to address the matter.

In October, the campaign was rocked by revelations that among the hosts of a scheduled Chicago fund-raiser was Steve Patton, a lawyer who had tried to block the release of footage of the 2014 police shooting of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald. After black leaders including Jesse Jackson objected, the campaign distanced itself from Mr. Patton.

Another problem arose in late November, when Mr. Buttigieg came under fire for comments he made in 2011 about children from “lower-income, minority neighborhoods” not having “someone who they know personally who testifies to the value of education.” The remarks prompted a scathing essay in The Root.

Current and former staff members said The Root’s article became a source of angst among employees of color in the campaign.

The article was discussed during an all-staff meeting the day after it was published. At one point, Mr. Schmuhl, tears in his eyes, told staff members that he understood people of color on the campaign were “hurting,” according to three people who were present.

After the half-day retreat in early December, which the campaign says was scheduled before The Root’s article was published, a group of six staff members took additional steps to address their colleagues’ concerns. They organized the two follow-up sessions, titled “Building Belonging,” in an apartment building that is home to many campaign staff members.

The campaign’s senior leadership was aware of the sessions but did not participate in them.

On Jan. 1, the campaign’s national engagement coordinator, Raven Hollins, circulated a survey soliciting examples of microaggressions in the workplace, asking that only people of color complete it.

The first question asked whether employees of color had experienced any of six microaggressions from a white colleague, a list that included being interrupted and being “called the name of a different staff member of color.” Ms. Hollins declined to comment.

When the group of about 70 staff members convened for the Jan. 2 “Building Belonging” session, several spoke emotionally about their challenges in recruiting and hiring a diverse work force, according to the audio recording obtained by The Times.

Staff members also expressed frustration about the recent departures of minority colleagues, the importance of helping people of color build their professional political networks and hard feelings about the Patton episode two months earlier.

Katrina Smith, a young member of the vetting team, spoke about the episode involving Mr. Patton’s fund-raiser, telling her colleagues that leadership had ignored her group’s warning that he was an inappropriate host.

“The decisions that were made on those committees that ended up impacting everybody on the campaign, especially people of color, were hard ones and were not considered appropriately because of the makeup of the committees,” Ms. Smith said, according to the recording. “In a lot of different places on the campaign, we kind of have to screw up big-time before we make any big changes.”

In a statement provided by the campaign, Ms. Smith said, “Even as a more junior member of the team my voice is fully heard and valued.”

Mr. Meagher, the campaign spokesman, attributed the Patton episode to a “communications breakdown.” Marcus Switzer, an official in the Buttigieg fund-raising department, said he had subsequently helped improve the process of vetting donors.

“We were able to professionalize and operationalize some things and also account for the fact that this is a campaign that has had rapid growth,” he said.

Also during the Jan. 2 meeting, Buttigieg aides responsible for meeting the campaign’s diversity goals spoke in emotional terms about the difficulty of hiring minority candidates, the recording shows.

Alexis Gonzaludo, a member of the campaign’s fund-raising department, told colleagues that “my stomach is in knots” as she talked about the difficulty of attracting diverse candidates. She said she had become dismayed when she looked in the campaign’s hiring database and “it’s just like, a bunch of white dudes.”

“It’s been a shock, but not a surprise — really hard to find diverse candidates,” Ms. Gonzaludo said. “I feel a lot of pressure to, like, just hire someone.”

Ms. Gonzaludo, in a statement provided by the campaign, said: “These types of conversations, where people come together to have an open and honest discussion, are an opportunity to strategize on finding new resources to recruit talented candidates from all walks of life.”

Sonal Shah, the campaign’s policy director, who helped organize the “Building Belonging” sessions, said the young staff members of color had long been asking for an open discussion of issues of diversity on the campaign.

“They wanted to have a conversation about ensuring that we as a campaign were maintaining diversity and inclusion as a top-of-mind issue,” Ms. Shah said in an interview arranged by the campaign. “From the organizations that I have worked at, this has been consistent with young people. They always want to make sure they’re having that conversation.”

Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign said the retreat and follow-up meetings over the last two months, and other sessions throughout last year, showed its commitment to diversity, and its openness to having staff members voice their frustrations.

“I think there are some, you know, global issues that are not unique to our organization,” said Mr. Gair, the accounting director. “The purpose of the conversations was to create a safe space for folks to voice that with their colleagues.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

In Iowa, the ‘Not Sanders’ Democrats Find Voters Torn

Westlake Legal Group 27iowa1-facebookJumbo In Iowa, the ‘Not Sanders’ Democrats Find Voters Torn Warren, Elizabeth Vilsack, Tom Sanders, Bernard Primaries and Caucuses Presidential Election of 2020 Polls and Public Opinion Klobuchar, Amy Iowa Democratic Party Buttigieg, Pete (1982- ) Bloomberg, Michael R Biden, Joseph R Jr

BETTENDORF, Iowa — As they streamed out of the ballroom following a Scott County fund-raising banquet Saturday night, one after the other Iowa Democrats admitted that they still had not decided whom to support just over a week before the state’s presidential caucuses.

But by not mentioning his name as they rattled off their short lists, they made it clear whom they would not support: Senator Bernie Sanders, the democratic socialist from Vermont who has taken the lead in recent polls.

Instead, every one of the 30 still-undecided Democratic activists here rattled off some combination of the same four names — Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind.

As Mr. Sanders tightens his grip on the party’s young and left-wing voters in Iowa, more traditional Democrats, the ones who happily sit through marathon banquet dinners to hear the candidates and their representatives, remain split between his four leading competitors or remain unsure altogether about whom to rally behind.

“I have told my colleagues all along: Bernie Sanders can win with 27 percent of the vote here,” said Representative Dave Loebsack, an Iowa Democrat supporting Mr. Buttigieg, alluding to his fellow lawmakers, many of whom are deeply uneasy about running with Mr. Sanders on top of the ticket.

The fracture among mainstream Democrats here carries profound implications for a primary that has already unsettled the party establishment and prompted late entrants into the race.

Mr. Sanders is threatening to seize control in the early states, taking narrow but clear polling leads in Iowa and New Hampshire and increasingly menacing Mr. Biden’s advantage in national polls. With his mammoth online fund-raising operation, Mr. Sanders appears to be in a position of financial strength unmatched by any other candidate besides Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City.

Mr. Sanders’s endurance, and his apparent rise in the earliest primary and caucus states, reflects both the loyalty of his core supporters and their conviction that Mr. Sanders would bring the same fighting resilience to the general election. But even among many liberals who admire Mr. Sanders’s campaign, or some of his policy ideas, there is deep concern about the implications of nominating a candidate from the left whom President Trump is sure to portray as extreme.

“I think that Bernie is just a bridge too far for the country,” said Bonnie Campbell, a former Iowa attorney general who is supporting Mr. Biden. Ms. Campbell said she would have no difficulty supporting Mr. Sanders in the general election, but added, “I can tell you, I hear from friends and colleagues who say: ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do if Bernie wins?’”

But in Iowa, Democrats who hope to avert that outcome do not appear close to settling on another candidate as an alternative to Mr. Sanders. And if more moderate voters don’t coalesce behind an alternative by next week’s caucus, party traditionalists fear, Mr. Sanders could win Iowa with only a modest plurality, emboldening his leading rivals to remain in the race, and then notch another victory again a week later in New Hampshire. No Democrat in modern times has lost contested races in both Iowa and New Hampshire and claimed the nomination.

The early primary and caucus outcomes could have an outsize impact on later primaries, including the large states voting in March, some of which begin collecting mail-in and early ballots in the immediate aftermath of Iowa. If a candidate like Mr. Sanders were to seize momentum next week, it could help him build a head start in states like California and Texas.

It is a scenario that is deeply alarming to establishment-aligned Democrats, if not unfamiliar. Four years ago, convinced Donald Trump could not win the presidency, they watched with delight as he snatched the Republican nomination without winning majorities because his more traditional rivals divided the vote and refused to bow out.

The Democrats in this race have been as reluctant to target Mr. Sanders as the Republicans were to target Mr. Trump four years ago; in each case they were skeptical of his staying power and believed they had more to gain by attacking other rivals.

Even now, as Mr. Sanders takes a lead in the first two early states, his opponents have not delivered a sustained argument against his candidacy, and remain reluctant to take him on: while Mr. Buttigieg drew attention for warning in a fund-raising solicitation that a Sanders nomination would be too risky, he notably declined to amplify his rhetoric in television interviews over the weekend. The closest he has come to confronting his rival on the left is to make oblique references to the often-bitter 2016 primary between Hillary Clinton and Mr. Sanders.

“Most of us would agree the less 2020 resembles 2016 the better — in all respects,” Mr. Buttigieg said in a brief interview. Each of the would-be Stop Sanders candidates has built enough political strength to justify forging ahead: Mr. Biden remains the national front-runner, with unmatched support among black voters; Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Warren both have double-digit support in New Hampshire polls, and sizable war chests; Ms. Klobuchar has the thinnest operation beyond Iowa of the group, but over the weekend she earned the endorsement of New Hampshire’s influential Union Leader newspaper.

Should all four move forward from Iowa, with their perceived strengths and weaknesses, it could make it difficult for any of them to become a rallying point for voters uneasy about Mr. Sanders.

Complicating matters further for traditionalists, and making this race potentially even messier than Mr. Trump’s primary, is the presence of Mr. Bloomberg, who is not contesting the traditional early states in February but has already poured more than $270 million in advertising into later contests and made clear to allies that he will remain in the race should Mr. Sanders come roaring into March.

Mr. Bloomberg was on Ms. Klobuchar’s mind as she left the dinner here Saturday. She was asked if she would remain in the race if she did not break into the top three in the caucuses, which has often been the number of viable candidates who leave the state.

Even if you’re in fourth, she was asked?

“You think it’s only going to be down to four candidates even by New Hampshire?” she said before answering the question. “No, it’s not.”

Then, pointing to Mr. Bloomberg, she explained why the Democratic vote may remain splintered.

“Why would I get out while he’s still in?” Ms. Klobuchar demanded.

With nearly 40 percent of Iowa voters indicating in a new New York Times-Siena College poll that they were still not certain about whom to support, Mr. Sanders could still suffer a reversal of fortune here.

That’s in part because of the state’s complex, multiphase caucusing process, which allows supporters of underdog candidates to shift to stronger contenders. If Mr. Sanders has the most enthusiastic base of support in Iowa, he may be less well positioned to expand his bloc in later rounds should moderate voters rally to one of the four other leading candidates.

And it’s Ms. Klobuchar whom Iowa Democrats are watching most closely. If she does not reach 15 percent in most precincts, her supporters could determine the statewide winner if they migrate mostly to one candidate.

Former Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa, Mr. Biden’s most prominent supporter in the state, was blunt about why Ms. Klobuchar’s backers should support the former vice president.

Mr. Biden has the best chance of winning the general election, he shares Ms. Klobuchar’s pragmatic politics and “Joe is going to need a running mate,” Mr. Vilsack said.

A more urgent concern for Mr. Vilsack was the prospect of Iowa producing a muddled result, a scenario that’s more likely this year because the state party, for the first time, is releasing raw vote totals from the initial round of balloting as well as the final results and delegate allocations.

“If I had to make one prediction, there will be a split decision and that’ll have repercussions,” he said. “Because whoever quote-unquote wins can claim that they won, and talk about it going into New Hampshire.”

So while they still hope to best Mr. Sanders in Iowa or New Hampshire, several of Mr. Sanders’s rivals have begun emphasizing their strengths in states later in the calendar.

Mr. Biden’s advisers and surrogates have been stressing his support among minority communities that become important starting with the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 22, while Ms. Warren’s campaign circulated a memo last week detailing its preparations in the March primaries that will award most of the delegates that will settle the Democratic nomination.

And in a conversation with volunteers before a town hall-style meeting in Davenport on Sunday, Ms. Warren reiterated her determination to compete into March and beyond, telling supporters she already has staff in 30 states, according to a volunteer who attended the meeting and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“We all know that this is very likely to be a long nomination process,” said California Assemblyman David Chiu, who on Sunday was opening a campaign headquarters in San Francisco for Ms. Warren and said of her campaign: “They are going to put up a tremendous fight here in the state.”

That phase of the race is also when Mr. Bloomberg, with his vast personal fortune, could become a more urgent factor, either rising as an obstacle for Mr. Sanders or further fracturing the party’s moderate wing.

In California, Mayor Robert Garcia of Long Beach, who endorsed Mr. Biden this month, said he expected the former vice president to consolidate support there “once it becomes clear that there’s a few candidates left.”

But gathering support around just a few candidates could also be difficult in California, Mr. Garcia noted, because the state’s mail-in ballots would list the names of candidates who falter or withdraw over the course of February.

“There are going to be a lot of candidates in California, because they are going to be on the ballot,” he said. “There will be some drop-off, but they’re all competitive here and that’s going to continue.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

T Minus 8 Days: A Frenetic Weekend on the Trail in Iowa

DES MOINES — With the Iowa caucuses a week away and senators briefly sprung from their impeachment-induced confinement on Capitol Hill, the Democratic presidential candidates and their surrogates spilled out across Iowa on Sunday.

They gave their stump speeches. They took photos and shook hands. They tried mightily to address the elephant in the room — a series of polls showing Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont pulling even with or ahead of the longtime front-runner, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. — without appearing to concern themselves with it.

Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., carried on the long tradition of campaign-trail subtweeting, attacking Mr. Sanders and Mr. Biden unmistakably but without naming them.

“The country will be crying out for a president capable of unifying and healing the American people,” Mr. Buttigieg said at a rally in West Des Moines, a clear shot at Mr. Sanders.

Later, at a town hall televised on Fox News, he said that he had “heard some folks saying” that now was not the time for voters to take a risk — Team Biden is running an ad arguing exactly that — but that the real risk “would be to try to go up against this president with the same old playbook that we’ve been relying on.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who has gained ground in recent weeks but is still polling a distant fifth here, tried to focus on crowd sizes instead — and on somewhat better poll results she received in New Hampshire, which will vote the week after Iowa.

“We are seeing this overwhelming number of people showing up on a Sunday afternoon,” Ms. Klobuchar told reporters in Ames. “We’re seeing the poll that we just saw this morning in New Hampshire, in double digits, just a few points away from many of my maybe more well-known competitors on the national stage.”

And besides, how much attention should voters pay to polls to begin with? “Let’s see what happens when people are actually showing up,” she said.

Westlake Legal Group democratic-candidates-20-questions-promo-1579898311650-articleLarge-v10 T Minus 8 Days: A Frenetic Weekend on the Trail in Iowa Warren, Elizabeth Sanders, Bernard Presidential Election of 2020 Klobuchar, Amy Buttigieg, Pete (1982- ) Biden, Joseph R Jr

20 (More) Questions With Democrats

We sat down again with Democratic candidates and asked them a new set of questions. Watch their answers.

As always, the undertone — and sometimes the overtone — was each candidate’s so-called electability against President Trump. From Davenport in the east to Sioux City in the west, the candidates circled one another, jostling to cast themselves as the most viable contender for November.

“Can we just address it right here? Women win,” Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said at an event in Davenport, invoking the same argument she made at this month’s debate when she noted that she and Ms. Klobuchar were the only people onstage who had never lost an election. “Women candidates have been outperforming men candidates since Donald Trump was elected.”

Mr. Sanders and Mr. Biden, meanwhile, continued to spar with each other, each seeing the other — justifiably, based on recent polls — as his biggest threat.

After a weeklong public fight over their records on Social Security, they turned to climate. At an event in Perry on Sunday, Mr. Sanders shot back at Mr. Biden for his remark a couple days earlier that “not a single solitary scientist” considered Mr. Sanders’s climate plan workable.

“Well, Joe, you’re wrong,” Mr. Sanders said. “Many leading scientists agree with our plan, and in a few days we’re going to have a long list of scientists who agree with our plan.”

In Des Moines, Mr. Biden drew voters’ attention to what is arguably his biggest strength nationally: his strong support from black voters. It is a key part of the same electability argument that echoed across the state all weekend: Black voters are an essential constituency in the Democratic Party.

“I know a lot of folks out here were wondering, ‘Why does Biden get such overwhelming support from the African-American community?’” Mr. Biden said. “Because that’s what I’m part of. That’s where my political identity comes from. And it’s the single most loyal constituency I’ve ever had.”

As for the Iowans he and everyone else were courting, some of them ended the weekend as torn as they had begun it.

“It’s hard to tell. They are all so similar,” said Ann Clary, a state budget analyst who attended one of Mr. Buttigieg’s events on Sunday but is also considering caucusing for Mr. Biden and Ms. Klobuchar. “Sometimes I can’t fall asleep at night. I just can’t stop thinking about it.”

As night fell, Mr. Biden and Mr. Buttigieg went on with business as usual, looking forward to another full week of events. And then there were the senators.

Round and round the state they went: Ms. Warren from Davenport to Cedar Rapids, Ms. Klobuchar from Waterloo to Ames to Des Moines, Mr. Sanders from Perry to Storm Lake to Sioux City.

They had to hurry, because soon the day, and their window, would be over.

“I could have literally done these in every town and revisited all 99 counties again,” Ms. Klobuchar told reporters wistfully after an event in Ames. “That was one of my secret plans, but it’s now been dashed, since I turn into a pumpkin at midnight.”

Reporting was contributed by Nick Corasaniti from Ames, Iowa; Sydney Ember from Ames and Perry; Reid J. Epstein from West Des Moines and Storm Lake; Shane Goldmacher from Davenport; Thomas Kaplan from Des Moines; and Lisa Lerer from Perry.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

5 Things We Learned Interviewing 2020 Democrats (Again)

Westlake Legal Group SUPERCUT_THUMB-facebookJumbo 5 Things We Learned Interviewing 2020 Democrats (Again) Yang, Andrew (1975- ) Warren, Elizabeth Steyer, Thomas F Presidential Election of 2020 Klobuchar, Amy Buttigieg, Pete (1982- ) Bloomberg, Michael R

The first time we interviewed the Democratic presidential candidates, late last spring, we had a pile of yes-or-no, either-or policy questions to ask, many of them representing litmus-test issues at the heart of Democratic politics: single-payer health care and foreign wars, wealth concentration and tech regulation.

Our second round of interviews was different. For starters, we asked fewer candidates to participate, inviting only the ones with a realistic shot at accumulating a substantial number of delegates.

[20 (More) Questions for Democrats]

And we asked them, for the most part, a different genre of questions, exploring not just policy issues but also their ideas about leadership and the presidency.

Our hope was to produce a set of interviews that would guide voters trying to make a difficult final decision about which candidate they’d like to put in the country’s most powerful job.

We invited nine candidates to be interviewed, and seven accepted: Pete Buttigieg, Michael R. Bloomberg, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, Andrew Yang, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker. Mr. Booker was interviewed in December, but has since dropped out of the race. (Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Bernie Sanders declined to participate.)

Here are some of our takeaways.

[See their responses on investigating Mr. Trump.]

Nearly every Democratic candidate we interviewed left the door open to investigating Mr. Trump and members of his family, even after the president has left office. Ms. Warren and Mr. Steyer sounded particularly determined to hold Mr. Trump to account.

“Nobody is above the law, not even the president of the United States, not even the family,” Ms. Warren said.

“I don’t think there’s any question but that Mr. Trump has broken the law,” Mr. Steyer said.

But all of the candidates, including Ms. Warren and Mr. Steyer, suggested they would defer to the Justice Department on how to handle Mr. Trump and his family. That determination, Ms. Klobuchar said, was “not the job of the president.”

And some candidates sounded more eager to turn the page on the Trump administration than to probe allegations of wrongdoing.

“I think it’s a very bad pattern to fall into, where the administration of a government investigates the previous administration,” Mr. Yang said, adding that he would prefer to “move the country forward and unify around the new president.”

[See their responses about their running mates and debating Trump.]

We asked all the candidates to sketch their approaches to the general election, and describe how they would choose a running mate and debate President Trump. In every case, they said they would not seek to fight fire with fire, but instead harry the president in a way that would undercut the foundations of his political strength.

Mr. Buttigieg said he would make sure Mr. Trump could not simply “change the subject” with lies and outlandish claims. Ms. Klobuchar said her focus would be an “optimistic economic agenda,” while Mr. Yang said he believed he could make Mr. Trump “seem totally ridiculous,” in part by using humor. Both Ms. Warren and Mr. Bloomberg said they would not make a general-election debate all about the president.

“Number one, don’t waste your time criticizing him and telling everybody what he’s done wrong,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “People know that. Tell them what you’re going to do.”

In discussing the vice presidency, the candidates converged on a common set of themes: they would seek out running mates, they said, who shared their worldviews and who were ready to assume the presidency. Ms. Warren said she wanted a running mate “who wants to be in the fight — I mean, all the way in.”

For Mr. Steyer, the top priority in a running mate was conveyed in one word: “Diversity.”

[See their responses about U.S. relations with Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia, which foreign leader they admire and what foreign leaders should know about them.]

Some of the candidates wrestled more visibly than others with questions about the role of the United States in Hong Kong, and its alliance with Saudi Arabia. Every candidate expressed some level of concern about the American relationship with the Saudis, though some were more pointed than others: “We have to rethink our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Ms. Warren said.

With few exceptions, the candidates said the American president should be a public champion of democratic values, including in Hong Kong. “Those who are rising up in Hong Kong demanding democracy deserve to know that they have a friend in the United States of America,” Mr. Buttigieg said.

But Mr. Bloomberg said he favored a more discreet approach, run through “backdoor” communication with China: “The people of Hong Kong certainly don’t need us weighing in and increasing the tension,” he said.

Mr. Yang, meanwhile, said the United States should support “people who are protesting for self determination and democracy,” but added that Hong Kong was in a “gray area diplomatically.”

Asked to name a foreign leader they admire, many of the candidates singled out Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany; Mr. Steyer described her as the “leader of the free world.” Mr. Buttigieg pointed to Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand as an inspiring figure from a “new generation,” while Mr. Yang named Justin Trudeau of Canada for bringing a “different approach to politics.”

And asked to name something about themselves that foreign leaders should know, nearly every candidate stressed their own honesty and candor. The “most important thing that foreign leaders should know about me,” Mr. Buttigieg said, “is that I will keep my word.”

“They also need to know that I am a person of trust,” Ms. Klobuchar said, “that I keep my threats and I keep my promises.”

[See their responses on the Obama years.]

None of the Democratic candidates has shown any appetite for criticizing President Barack Obama. So, we wondered what they would say if we asked whether Barack Obama made any mistakes at all. Some of them responded by dodging the core of the question: Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Warren, for instance, declined to name anything in particular they thought Mr. Obama did wrong.

But while all of them swathed their answers in lavish praise for the Obama record, several offered revealing hints of criticism. Mr. Bloomberg said the former president should have moved faster to fill vacant judgeships, while Ms. Klobuchar called the failure to take on prescription drug pricing a significant missed opportunity. Mr. Steyer faulted the former president for having spent too much time trying to work with Republican adversaries whom Mr. Steyer said would “never compromise.”

“He trusted the Republicans too much, too long,” Mr. Steyer said.

Most interesting of all may have been Mr. Yang, who delivered a big-picture critique of the Obama economic record: “When we had a fundamental choice to either recapitalize the banks or keep Americans in their homes, we chose the banks, we bailed out Wall Street,” Mr. Yang said. That is a view several other candidates in the race surely share, even if they did not say it out loud.

[See their responses about bad habits, books and celebrity crushes.]

While the interviews were mostly serious, eat-your-vegetables questions, we couldn’t resist adding a bit of dessert. And so we asked all of the candidates to name their bad habits, the last book they read and their celebrity crushes.

The bad habits were almost endearingly normal.

“I like Cheez-Its,” Mr. Bloomberg said, “which are probably not good for you.”

“I bite my nails,” said Mr. Buttigieg.

Ms. Klobuchar had perhaps our favorite bad habit: “The New York Times crossword puzzle,” she said. “So, my problem is that I do it at night.”

Some candidates were willing to name a celebrity crush, but most were not. Without hesitation, Ms. Warren named The Rock. “Just look at that man!” she said. “He’s eye candy!”

Mr. Booker, who left the race after recording his interview, had perhaps the easiest answer to that question.

“Yeah, I have a celebrity crush,” he said. “Her name is Rosario Dawson, and I happen to live in the wonderful world where I am ridiculously blessed that she has a crush back on me.”

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Stuck in the Senate as Their 2020 Rivals Have Iowa to Themselves

Westlake Legal Group 22candidates-impeachment1-facebookJumbo Stuck in the Senate as Their 2020 Rivals Have Iowa to Themselves Warren, Elizabeth Sanders, Bernard Presidential Election of 2020 Klobuchar, Amy impeachment Buttigieg, Pete (1982- ) Biden, Joseph R Jr

WASHINGTON — Hours into the first long night of President Trump’s impeachment trial on Tuesday, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont kept checking his watch. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts sipped hot water — one of two drinks allowed in the chamber — to warm up. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota jotted down notes. And Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado stood and listened.

Around the same time, more than 1,000 miles west at a community college in Fort Dodge, Iowa, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was warning an audience about the divided nation that the next president would inherit.

And at a veterans hall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., was coming out swinging against Mr. Trump, prompting 1,200 voters to chant “Pete! Pete!”

“Wouldn’t it be nice to put the tweets behind us?” Mr. Buttigieg said.

Something extraordinary is happening to the Democratic presidential primary: An intensely competitive race has been thrown into a state of semi-suspended animation less than two weeks before caucusing begins. Three candidates who have a shot at breakout performances in Iowa on Feb. 3, Ms. Warren, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Klobuchar, are suddenly stuck at the Senate impeachment trial in Washington, while their rivals have the campaign trail largely to themselves.

Normally the final two weeks before the caucuses are a frenetic blitz of four to six events a day for each candidate, barreling from the Mississippi River in the east to the Missouri River in the west. Instead, Ms. Warren, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Klobuchar — as well as Mr. Bennet, who is averaging less than 1 percent in Iowa polls — are in their Senate seats for many hours on end, operating under a vow of near-silence, unable to see and be seen by the hundreds of voters they would normally be courting from morning to night.

They are putting their campaign needs in the hands of their young field organizers, who are knocking doors in subfreezing temperatures in Iowa, and political surrogates who are standing in for them at events. Among those on deck are Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York for Mr. Sanders; former Secretary Julián Castro, his twin brother, Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas, and the actress and activist Ashley Judd for Ms. Warren; and Phill Drobnick, a Minnesotan who coached the Olympic gold medal-winning men’s curling team in 2018, for Ms. Klobuchar.

Winning Iowa usually depends on candidates making strong closing arguments and sealing the deal in person with undecided caucusgoers. But the senators are counting on their political organizations and their weekend fly-ins when the trial is adjourned to carry the day.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Buttigieg have wasted no time angling for an advantage, traveling across Iowa on Tuesday and Wednesday as the trial was getting underway, and making plans to devote precious time to campaigning later this week in New Hampshire and South Carolina, respectively. Candidates normally would never leave Iowa at this late stage, but Mr. Biden and Mr. Buttigieg don’t have to worry about Ms. Warren or Mr. Sanders, their chief rivals, fighting for caucus votes on the ground.

“Tomorrow I will be in an impeachment trial,” Mr. Sanders told supporters Monday night in Des Moines. “How long it lasts? Honestly don’t know. I am not going to be able to be here as much as I would like. So you guys are going to have to carry the ball.”

In Iowa, several voters said it wasn’t fair to judge the candidates based on whether or not they were present in the state.

As she waited to hear from Mr. Biden on Tuesday evening, Pam Rose, 65, of Fort Dodge, said that it was “unfortunate” that the senators had to be off the trail, but stressed that she did not hold it against them.

“Their job is important,” she said. “It’s not fair to ask if Joe has an advantage if he’s not in Washington.”

On Wednesday, as the senators arrived at the Capitol for party lunch meetings before the trial started up again, Mr. Buttigieg was in Dubuque, comforting a woman seeking laws to speed the development of experimental drugs to treat her A.L.S.

Speaking before an audience of hundreds, he seemed to go out of his way to describe the time he has spent in Iowa, citing voter after voter he has encountered in the state in the past year — perhaps a pointed reminder that several of his rivals were absent.

When asked about climate change, he recalled a visit to a tiny town in the western part of the state. “I’m thinking about a kid in Shenandoah who raised his hand and asked me how farm families could be part of the solution,” he said.

A little later, as senators were preparing for another marathon session, Mr. Biden reminded voters in Mason City of the great responsibility they had as residents of the leadoff caucus state, before hitting back at a reporter who had pressed him on his tensions with Mr. Sanders.

Mr. Biden, a former six–term senator and decades-long evangelist for the chamber, did not seem upset to be missing the historic trial. In fact, he barely tuned in.

“I didn’t get to see it all because I was out here campaigning in Iowa, doing town meetings,” he said in a television interview Wednesday morning. “But what I saw the reruns of, it was — I have a great respect and reverence for the Senate, for real. And I was embarrassed for the institution.”

No one knows how long the trial will last. Could it conclude before the caucuses? Perhaps. Or, as some campaign staff members argue, their voices tinged with a touch of wistfulness, Republicans could vote to end proceedings at any moment.

The uncertainty has led to some flexible scheduling. Ms. Warren plans to travel along the eastern border of Iowa for a series of town halls on Saturday. Or not, if the Senate has other plans. Schedules for Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Sanders remain even more uncertain, their aides say.

But the candidates are pursuing creative solutions to make up for their absence. Ms. Klobuchar spent her morning in a television studio in Washington, beaming into local stations in Iowa and New Hampshire for interviews that would air while she was in the chamber, and rushed out for a cable interview in the afternoon, during a break in the proceedings. Her daughter took over her Twitter account to detail her own travels across Iowa.

Mark Oehlert, a retired Lutheran pastor who came to hear Mr. Buttigieg speak on Wednesday afternoon, said he was glad Democratic senators were fulfilling their constitutional duty.

“They’re doing what they’re supposed to do,” he said, adding, “I hope that people look more broadly” than who would gain a political edge in Iowa during the Senate trial.

“We want them in the trenches,” Nancy Oehlert, his wife, said, hoping for — though not expecting — a conviction of Mr. Trump in the Senate.

Strict Senate rules, dating back decades, complicate the workings of modern campaigns responding to rapidly changing news cycles. Official decorum guidelines circulated last week banned cellphones and urged senators to “refrain from speaking” with their colleagues during the trial. No food is permitted and only two beverages, water and milk, are allowed. Communication with the outside world happens through notes ferried out of the chamber by Senate pages. When Hillary Clinton assailed Mr. Sanders in an interview published on Tuesday, his team struggled to confirm details about their relationship, saying the senator was difficult to reach.

Walking back into the Capitol on Wednesday morning, Ms. Warren dismissed concerns that her time in Washington could cost her ground in the primary contest. “Some things are more important than politics,” she said.

Aides to Ms. Warren said she had left the Capitol at 2 a.m., after spending the previous twelve hours in near silence, with short breaks to check her phone and grab some salad in the Senate cloakroom with her colleagues. (She passed on the pizza, they reported.)

In Iowa, Mr. Buttigieg’s day ended around 10 p.m., when he met a friend for dinner Tuesday evening before retiring to his hotel. Over the course of nearly 12 hours, his campaign said, he’d addressed nearly 1,800 voters.

Trip Gabriel contributed reporting from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Katie Glueck from Fort Dodge, Iowa, and Emily Cochrane from Washington.

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3 Organizers for 3 Candidates, Under One Roof: This Is Campaigning in Iowa

Westlake Legal Group 00howardcounty1-facebookJumbo 3 Organizers for 3 Candidates, Under One Roof: This Is Campaigning in Iowa Warren, Elizabeth Voting and Voters Primaries and Caucuses Presidential Election of 2020 Iowa Democratic Party Buttigieg, Pete (1982- ) Biden, Joseph R Jr

RICEVILLE, Iowa — Charles Uffelman, a bearded and burly Tennessean who is working in Iowa for Elizabeth Warren, stirred gravy on a stovetop while biscuits rose in the oven.

Jared Sherman, a Pete Buttigieg organizer in a checked lumberjack shirt, scrambled eggs.

Bryan McNamara, a staff member for Joseph R. Biden Jr. who is fond of a light leather jacket in the Midwest winter, poured strong coffee.

“I love these guys, I love organizing alongside them,” Mr. Uffelman said as he and the others prepared a country breakfast on a recent weekday morning.

The Democratic presidential candidates may have thrown some sharp elbows on a debate stage in Des Moines last week. But two and a half hours away, in a farmhouse beneath a wind turbine, with the odor of a hog farm wafting across a rural road, field organizers for three of the combatants have found a way to coexist in harmony as housemates.

“It helps we all have thick skin,” said Mr. McNamara, who has added 8,000 miles and a coat of dust to a sedan with New York plates. “Being able to come home and, you know, if I had a rough day, being able to talk to people and see that we’re all having similar challenges out here — it’s not just our candidate or our campaign — there are issues with rural organizing that we all encounter.”

The monthslong buildup to Iowa’s first-in-the-nation nominating contest, and the challenges of turning out voters to more than 1,000 caucus sites on Feb. 3, have led to a culture of grass-roots organizing in the state unlike anywhere else. All four leading Democratic campaigns, including Bernie Sanders’s team, have dispatched small armies of field organizers, mostly idealistic young people from out of state, to embed themselves in communities.

Mr. McNamara is an organizer for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.Credit…Jordan Gale for The New York Times Mr. Sherman is an organizer for Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind.Credit…Jordan Gale for The New York Times

They knock on doors, hold meet-ups of potential supporters and otherwise build out networks of volunteers who play a large part in determining the results of the caucuses. Lack of an Iowa ground game in 2016 was a big part of why Donald J. Trump finished second in the state despite leading in pre-caucus polls. Barack Obama’s enormous organizing footprint in 2008 was largely why his margin of victory exceeded expectations.

“You have to build community around the campaign — it has to feel like a family,” said Mr. Uffelman, 26, the Warren organizer, who has joined a local Methodist church in an effort to meet people and become known.

Mr. McNamara, 22, the Biden representative, held a potluck dinner for volunteers he recruited and people just considering the former vice president. “I love community events that pull our supporters together but also don’t put pressure on them to just make it about the candidate,” he said.

Laura Hubka, who has opened her large home to the organizers rent-free since October, in a windswept region on the Minnesota border, is chairwoman of the Howard County Democratic Party. An area of declining population with many older rural voters, Howard County is famous in political circles for having swung more jarringly than any county in America from Mr. Obama to Mr. Trump. It voted for Mr. Obama by a 21 percentage point margin in 2012 and for Mr. Trump by 20 — a 41-point gyration.

“I’ve been asked 300 times what happened,” Ms. Hubka said. The closest she’s come to an answer is that the Obama-Trump vote was a fed-up rejection of both parties by people who had lost faith in government. The county seat, Cresco, is a town of fewer than 4,000 rarely visited by presidential candidates. A wall mural of standout local wrestlers represents community pride, but downtown storefronts are increasingly going dark.

Also, there was a lot of “Hillary hate” in 2016, Ms. Hubka acknowledged. “We were chased out of yards with rakes while door knocking.”

Some of that sentiment still lingers. Mr. McNamara told of knocking at the door of an older woman who had caucused for Mr. Biden in 2008, only to be turned away by a family member, who shouted: “She doesn’t want to talk to you. Trump 2020!”

“That’s one of those experiences where I said, O.K., this is real,” said Mr. McNamara, who grew up in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Ms. Hubka, 55, an ultrasound technician married to a long-haul truck driver, was a Sanders supporter four years ago, when Howard County Democrats gave the Vermont senator 54 percent of their caucus vote. After the general election, she quit the state party central committee in frustration over the factionalism between supporters of Mr. Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

But she did not stay away long from activism. Ms. Hubka endorsed Mr. Buttigieg, the first county chair in Iowa to do so. She believes Mr. Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., can bridge the divisiveness in her party, in Howard County and in the country.

She does not demonize Trump voters, who include friends and family members. She ticks off some who regret their choice: the husband of a dietitian at the medical center where she works. A conservative official at the Chamber of Commerce angry at the lack of fiscal restraint under Republicans. A “shirttail uncle” of her husband’s, a small farmer hurt by tariffs, who she said “came up to me and put his fist down on the table” and declared he would not vote for Mr. Trump again.

Such voters are not hard to find in Howard County, even if far from the majority. They include Sara Burke, who plans to participate in her first Democratic caucus next month, an abrupt reversal in her short voting history. Ms. Burke, 38, cast her first ballot ever for president in 2016 for Mr. Trump.

At the time, she said, she was “terrified” that Muslim extremists would harm her family in rural Iowa, a fear driven by Mr. Trump that even her 11-year-old son echoed. “He legitimately felt fear; it’s horrible as a parent,” she said.

Her disappointment set in early. She described the president’s bullying speech and braggadocio as “disgusting.”

Mr. Uffelman prepared to canvass for Senator Elizabeth Warren.Credit…Jordan Gale for The New York Times The three talked over breakfast before starting work.Credit…Jordan Gale for The New York Times

“Democrat or Republican, I can’t support anybody like that,” she said.

The auto parts factory where Ms. Burke works is near full employment, running three shifts, but she said her income from a $21.50 an hour job is barely above the line that would entitle her children to subsidized school lunches. “If I’m at one of the best paying places around here, I should be able to be grateful and do my job and pay for the lunches and not have to need help,” she said. “It’s crazy to me.”

Last year Ms. Burke became active in the political wing of the United Automobile Workers union. She concluded the president was anti-worker. “What I really realize now, and didn’t before, is if he had his way, my God, our children would be working right alongside of us and none of us would be making any money, there would be no union,” she said.

“From what I was paying attention to and where I was getting my information,” Ms. Burke recalled of 2016, “I was not informing myself well at all.”

Neil Shaffer, the chairman of the Republican Party in Howard County, said he saw no signs of a “Trump revolt.” He predicted the general election would turn on the tone of the two major candidates, in a county where many voters have weak partisan identity and dislike divisiveness. “I think honestly this election will have more to do with personalities than with issues,” he said.

Ms. Hubka is not optimistic the county will swing back to the Democrats in November. If she can shave 10 points off Mr. Trump’s 2016 margin, that would be a victory, she said. “I think it’s going to be a horrible, nasty election,” she said.

Even though she favors Mr. Buttigieg, she welcomes all of the organizers staying under her roof. “One of these three people’s candidates is going to be the nominee,” she said.

Usually after dinner, her three lodgers head upstairs to separate rooms to log data from their day or work the phones. “They call until 9, which I’ve advised against because Iowans don’t like to be called after 8,” Ms. Hubka said.

Late at night, the organizers drift down to a bar in the basement. They walk a fine line in talking shop — swapping general stories without sharing details about the caucusgoers they’ve recruited or the canvassing scripts used by their campaigns. “We talk about what we’re doing without actually talking about what we’re doing,” Mr. Uffelman, the Warren organizer, said.

All three find that some of the best parts of the job are the lengthy conversations that rural residents are willing to engage in. Mr. Uffelman, in his Southern lilt, recalled speaking for 30 minutes to a farmer fixing a tractor, who had concerns about his health care and corruption in the farm economy. Mr. Uffelman persuaded him to support Ms. Warren, the Massachusetts senator.

“I’m a farm boy, I grew up on a farm, and you know, being able to talk about what his job is like,” he said, “that’s my favorite part of organizing — you get to hear the story.”

The three men said they have never debated among themselves the No. 1 issue for many Democrats: Who is most electable in November?

“We’ll say, well, I know my candidate’s most electable,” Mr. McNamara said to laughter.

“I think that’s why this dynamic works,” Mr. Sherman, 28, the Buttigieg organizer, who is an Ohio native, said. “Yes, we’re on different teams now, and yes, we think our candidate is the best person to move forward. But once our party has a nominee, we have to work with each other.”

Mr. Sherman’s laptop is a collage of stickers for candidates he has worked for. He said the housemates hope to stay together after Iowa and through Election Day.

“I’m trying to get these guys to come to Ohio,” Mr. Sherman said.

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Democratic Debate Recap: Gender, War and Taking on Trump

DES MOINES — The Democratic presidential candidates clashed in starkly personal terms Tuesday over who had the best chance to defeat President Trump, as Senator Elizabeth Warren sought to jump-start her campaign in the last debate before the Iowa caucuses by highlighting her electoral success and that of other female candidates in the Trump era.

Prompted by the moderators, Ms. Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders continued a debate over the fraught subject of whether a woman could be elected president, an issue that in recent days had caused the first serious breach in their relationship. One day after she confirmed a report that Mr. Sanders had told her in a private meeting that he did not think a woman could defeat Mr. Trump, Ms. Warren trumpeted her Senate victory over an incumbent Republican and then gestured down the debate stage toward the four male candidates.

“Collectively they have lost 10 elections,” she said, before acknowledging the only other female candidate present, Senator Amy Klobuchar. “The only people on this stage who have won every single election they have been in are the women: Amy and me. And the only person on this stage who has beaten an incumbent Republican in the past 30 years is me.”

Mr. Sanders, Ms. Warren’s top rival for progressive support, flatly denied that he had made the comment when the two lawmakers met without aides in 2018. He said it was “incomprehensible that I would think that a woman couldn’t be president of the United States,” noting Hillary Clinton had won the popular vote in the 2016 general election.

The Democrats disagreed over international affairs and keeping troops in the Middle East, whether to support Mr. Trump’s trade deal for North America, how aggressively to tackle climate change, and, yet again, they sparred on health care. But the issue animating much of the evening was the same question that has shaped the primary race for the past year: which of them would be the most formidable contender against Mr. Trump.

The contest has increasingly revolved around questions of electability, but the matter has become more urgent in the weeks since hostilities increased between the United States and Tehran after the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the powerful Iranian commander. Much of Tuesday’s debate, which featured six of the remaining candidates, touched on national security as the Democrats excoriated Mr. Trump, urged caution in the Middle East and laid claim to the mantle of being the best potential commander in chief.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. came under far less scrutiny than his standing as the national front-runner might have merited in the final debate before voting begins in Iowa on Feb. 3. Just as notable, Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., who has slipped in Iowa, seemed satisfied to make his own case without sharply criticizing his top rivals.

New polls in Iowa show that Democratic voters are roughly split between four top candidates: Mr. Biden, Mr. Sanders of Vermont, Ms. Warren of Massachusetts and Mr. Buttigieg.

But while Mr. Sanders was criticized for the cost of his plans, Ms. Warren for how many people would be turned off by hers and Mr. Buttigieg for the scope of his ambitions, Mr. Biden went long stretches on Tuesday receiving scant attention.

The debate unfolded at an extraordinarily volatile moment in American politics, with impeachment looming and escalated tensions with Iran. Befitting the setting and the stakes of the debate less than three weeks before the caucuses, multiple candidates — Ms. Warren, Mr. Buttigieg, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Klobuchar — all invoked Iowa or retold stories of specific Iowans they had met along the campaign trail, tailoring their pitch to the crucial state.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_167147265_c7ad252a-f5e0-4071-a48d-b9756ea0d03f-articleLarge Democratic Debate Recap: Gender, War and Taking on Trump Warren, Elizabeth Trump, Donald J Steyer, Thomas F Sanders, Bernard Primaries and Caucuses Presidential Election of 2020 Klobuchar, Amy DES MOINES, Iowa Democratic Party Debates (Political) Buttigieg, Pete (1982- ) Biden, Joseph R Jr

The debate featured six candidates, from left, Tom Steyer, Ms. Warren, Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, and Senator Amy Klobuchar.Credit…Jordan Gale for The New York Times

But it was the contretemps between Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders that was the most memorable moment in the lea-up to the caucuses here. It was a remarkable exchange between the two senators, in part because they are friends and have labored to abide by a de facto nonaggression pact for the past year. But more important, it also crystallized the competing cases that the leading Democratic contenders were making for why they were best positioned to defeat Mr. Trump.

Even as Ms. Warren said “Bernie is my friend and I am not here to try to fight with Bernie,” she flashed him a smile after Mr. Sanders noted that he, like Ms. Warren, had once defeated an incumbent Republican. “Just to set the record straight, I defeated an incumbent Republican running for Congress,” he said, before Ms. Warren pointed out that it had been 30 years ago.

Acknowledging that she was facing doubts about her chances to defeat Mr. Trump, she pointed out that John F. Kennedy had addressed questions about his Catholicism and, more recently, Barack Obama overcame doubts that he could win the presidency as a black man.

Both times, Ms. Warren said, “the Democratic Party stepped up and said yes.” It was an unusual closing argument in Iowa for a candidate who first rose to contention on the basis of her policy proposals, but it reflected the urgency she was facing to reverse her decline in a state where she led in the polls last year.

Mr. Sanders used the exchange to make his own case for why he was the most electable candidate: because he could lure a stream of new voters to the polls. “The real question” he said, “is how do we beat Trump? And the only way we beat Trump is by a campaign of energy and excitement and a campaign that has, by far, the largest voter turnout in the history of this country.”

For his part, Mr. Sanders did not seem rattled by the confrontation, at least during the forum. But in the immediate aftermath of the debate, CNN cameras captured Ms. Warren appearing to refuse to shake Mr. Sanders’s hand, and the two of them engaged in what seemed to be a pointed conversation.

Mr. Biden, who has increasingly placed his own polling strength against Mr. Trump at the center of his candidacy, was just as emphatic that he was best equipped to win the general election.

“The real issue is who can bring the whole party together,” said Mr. Biden, citing his endorsements from a variety of Democrats, including many racial minorities. “I am the one who has the broadest coalition of anyone running up here.”

Ms. Klobuchar cited her success appealing to a range of voters in Minnesota and even boasted that every one of her Republican opponents had left politics since they lost to her. “I think that sounds pretty good with the president we have right now,” she said.

But Ms. Klobuchar struggled momentarily when she sought to highlight the success of other Midwestern Democratic women and forgot the name of Gov. Laura Kelly of Kansas before receiving a cue.

“Kansas has a woman governor right now and she beat Kris Kobach,” she began. “And her name, um, is, I’m very proud to know her, and her name is, uh, Governor Kelly. Thank you.”

In a rare policy split, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren clashed on the new North American trade deal that Mr. Trump is trying to push through Congress. Mr. Sanders said it was not worth supporting — even if it made a “modest” improvement. “We can do much better than a Trump-led trade deal,” he said.

Ms. Warren, however, said that was the reason to support it. “We have farmers here in Iowa who are hurting,” she said.

The exchange was an example of how Ms. Warren has sought to position herself as a progressive more willing to get things done than Mr. Sanders.

The candidates clashed, as they have in all the debates, on health care. Mr. Sanders was pressed by the moderators about the cost of his “Medicare for all” package; unlike Ms. Warren, Mr. Sanders has not said what his proposal would cost or revealed which taxes he would increase to pay for it.

Mr. Buttigieg was asked directly about his lack of support among black voters, whom he will need to activate not just to win the nomination but also a potential general election against Mr. Trump. Mr. Buttigieg said those who know him best — in South Bend — support him, cited his African-American backers in Iowa and noted that his new campaign co-chairman was a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

A large part of the electorate remains up for grabs in a contest that many of the campaigns believe will produce record-setting turnout. A Des Moines Register-CNN poll last week indicated that 45 percent of caucusgoers said they could still be persuaded to support a different candidate. The four leading candidates in Iowa — Mr. Sanders, Mr. Biden, Ms. Warren and Mr. Buttigieg — are knotted so tightly together that Mr. Biden was fourth in the poll last week, but first in another, from Monmouth University. Mr. Sanders topped the Des Moines Register/CNN poll for the first time, putting perhaps the biggest target on his back yet ahead of a debate.

Mr. Sanders had the opportunity right from the start to emphasize his pacifist credentials as the debate opened with questions about the heightened tensions with Iran and who was best positioned to serve as commander in chief. Mr. Sanders immediately seized the opportunity to trumpet his past opposition to the war in Iraq. “I not only voted against the war, I helped lead the effort against the war,” he said.

Mr. Sanders warned that both the Iraq and Vietnam wars had been based on “lies.” “Right now, what I fear very much is that we have a president that is lying again and could drag us into a war that is even worse than the war in Iraq,” he said.

Mr. Sanders drew a distinction with Mr. Biden, who had supported the Iraq war resolution in the Senate. “Joe and I listened to what Dick Cheney and George Bush and Rumsfeld had to say,” Mr. Sanders said. “I thought they were lying. Joe saw it differently.”

Mr. Biden said he regretted his vote for that war. “It was a mistake and I acknowledge that,” Mr. Biden said, while noting that as vice president he had brought thousands of troops home from the Middle East.

In another twist that had the potential to affect the race in Iowa, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren, as well as Ms. Klobuchar and Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado (who did not make the debate), are confronting another looming challenge: how to mount a successful Iowa campaign while their duties in Congress require them to be in Washington.

With the senators likely to be in the Capitol up to six days a week for the impeachment trial of Mr. Trump, they will be unable to make their final appeals to Iowa voters in person as frequently as Mr. Biden and Mr. Buttigieg.

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Highlights From the January 2020 Democratic Debate in Iowa

Here’s what you need to know:

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_167151222_64b587e2-fa31-46ad-b072-04bca5a8cc07-articleLarge Highlights From the January 2020 Democratic Debate in Iowa Warren, Elizabeth Steyer, Thomas F Sanders, Bernard Primaries and Caucuses Presidential Election of 2020 Klobuchar, Amy Iowa DES MOINES, Iowa Democratic Party Debates (Political) Buttigieg, Pete (1982- ) Biden, Joseph R Jr

Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Ms. Klobuchar: Zinged liberals and says she’s the candidate in the middle, inside of the “extremes of our politics.”

Mr. Steyer: Said Mr. Trump had kicked the American people “in the face,” and that he wanted to be a good “teammate” to the American people as a political leader.

Mr. Buttigieg: Described himself as the unity candidate who can win both Democrats and Republicans.

Mr. Sanders: Said “this is the moment when we have to think big,” arguing unambitious plans will not do in 2020.

Ms. Warren: Offered a message of “hope and courage” as she detailed the challenges facing the nation, and raised the prospect of being the first woman president of the United States.

Mr. Biden: Called for restoring “decency” at home and American leadership abroad and warned that eight years of Mr. Trump’s presidency would be an “absolute disaster.”

In the final minutes of the debate, several of the contenders delivered sharpened pitches about how they believe they can defeat Mr. Trump.

“What Americans want is something different,” Ms. Klobuchar said. “I am going to be able to stand across from him on that debate stage and say to my friends in Iowa, the Midwest is not flyover country for me.”

Mr. Buttigieg highlighted his background as a military veteran.

“I’m ready to take on Donald Trump because when we get to the tough talk, and the chest thumping, he’ll have to stand next to an American war veteran and explain how he pretended bone spurs made him ineligible to serve,” he said.

Ms. Warren, as she often does, invoked her Republican brothers and noted her ability to find common ground with them.

“They understand that we have an America right now that’s working great for those at the top,” she said. “It’s just not working for anyone else.”

And Mr. Biden referenced his months of clashes with Mr. Trump, who asked the government of Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden, helping to lead the president’s impeachment.

“I’ve been the object of his affection now more than anybody else on the stage,” he said. “I’ve taken all the hits he can deliver, and I’m getting better in the polls.”

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Black voters who know me best are supporting me. It’s why I have the most support in South Bend. It’s why among elected black officials in my community who have gotten into this race, by far most of them, are supporting me.

Westlake Legal Group 14debate-livebriefing-buttigieg-videoSixteenByNine3000 Highlights From the January 2020 Democratic Debate in Iowa Warren, Elizabeth Steyer, Thomas F Sanders, Bernard Primaries and Caucuses Presidential Election of 2020 Klobuchar, Amy Iowa DES MOINES, Iowa Democratic Party Debates (Political) Buttigieg, Pete (1982- ) Biden, Joseph R Jr

CreditCredit…Jordan Gale for The New York Times

Mr. Buttigieg faced the biggest question dogging his campaign: Why doesn’t he have more support from black Democrats? asked the moderator Abby Phillip.

“The black voters who know me best are supporting me,” he replied. “It’s why I have the most support in South Bend. It’s why among elected black officials in my community who have gotten into this race, by far most of them are supporting me. Now, nationally I’m proud that my campaign is co-chaired by a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. And to have support right here in Iowa from some of the most recognizable black elected leaders.”

Of course, Mr. Buttigieg didn’t address his miniscule polling support from black voters in South Carolina — a huge vulnerability that could hurt his campaign if that weakness is not corrected soon.

Ms. Klobuchar said all the candidates’ climate plans pretty much the same. “Nearly every one of us has a plan that is very similar,” she said. “That is to get to carbon neutral by 2045 to 2050.”

Mr. Sanders disagreed, silently mouthing “no” and shooting his right arm into the air to demand the next speaking time.

“It’s a national crisis,” he said, proceeding to heap blame on the fossil fuel industry and demanding radical changes immediately, not 20 or 30 years into the future.

“If we as a nation do not transform our energy system away from fossil fuel, not by 2050, not 2040,” he said. “But unless we lead the world right now — not easy stuff — the planet we are leaving our kids will be uninhabitable and unhealthy.”

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This is a decency check on our government. This is a patriotism check. Not only is this trial that, but also this election.

Westlake Legal Group 14debate-livebriefing-klobuchar-videoSixteenByNine3000-v3 Highlights From the January 2020 Democratic Debate in Iowa Warren, Elizabeth Steyer, Thomas F Sanders, Bernard Primaries and Caucuses Presidential Election of 2020 Klobuchar, Amy Iowa DES MOINES, Iowa Democratic Party Debates (Political) Buttigieg, Pete (1982- ) Biden, Joseph R Jr

CreditCredit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Ms. Klobuchar, who is set to be a juror in Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, said that the nation’s “decency” is at issue.

“This is a decency check on our government,” she said. “This is a patriotism check. Not only is this trial that, but also this election. And no matter if you agree with everyone on the stage, I say this to Americans, you know this is a decency check on this president.”

Ms. Klobuchar said that she has a “constitutional duty to perform,” and warned Republicans against standing in the way of requested witnesses.”

“When I look at what the issue is it’s whether or not we’ll be able to have witnesses,” she said. “We have asked for only four people as witnesses. And if our Republican colleagues won’t allow those witnesses, they may as well give the president a crown and a scepter, they may as well make him king.”

Mr. Biden said he won’t remain embittered by Mr. Trump even after the impeachment trial over whether the president committed impeachable offenses in seeking foreign help to investigate Mr. Biden’s son.

“I have to be in a position I think of the American people,” Mr. Biden said. “I can’t hold a grudge. I have to be able to not only fight but also heal.”

Impeachment, almost uniquely among the Democratic candidates, leads to next to zero disagreement among the party’s presidential candidates. It’s not an issue that voters ask about on the campaign trail and has nothing to do with how the candidates would perform in office — since if any of them are president it would mean Mr. Trump is not.

Still, the impeachment trial due to begin next week will be a monster speed bump for the three senators on the debate stage: Ms. Klobuchar, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren.

Ms. Warren said she would have no qualms in leaving the campaign trail to sit as a juror in Mr. Trump’s trial.

“We have an impeachment trial — I will be there because it is my responsibility,” she said.

The contrast on free college between Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Warren was about as gentle as can be.

Mr. Buttigieg used his response to a question about free college to blast the rich, saying they should pay the way for their children to attend public colleges and universities, while providing free college to everyone else.

Ms. Warren, in defending her free college proposal, said a wealth tax would require millionaires to pay millions of dollars in new taxes, and that if they wish to send their children to public universities, that’s fine with her. She did not ding Mr. Buttigieg for opposing free college.

“What we really need to talk about is the bigger economic picture,” she said. “We need to be willing to put a wealth tax in place. To ask the giant corporations that is are not paying to pay. Because that is how we build an economy and those who want to talk about, bring down the national debt.”

Several of the candidates spoke at length about the exorbitant costs of child care and the personal toll it takes on Americans.

“It makes no sense for child care to cost two-thirds of somebody’s income,” Mr. Buttigieg said. “We have to drive it to 7 percent or below. And zero for the families who are living in poverty.”

Ms. Warren and Mr. Biden spoke in especially personal terms about child care — a financial responsibility that nearly brought her down, Ms. Warren said.

“If I hadn’t been saved by my aunt, I was ready to quit my job,” she said. “I think about how many women of my generation got knocked off the track and never got back on.”

Ms. Warren noted that she has proposed a two-cent wealth tax to provide child care benefits and universal pre-K, and raised concerned about exploitation of child care workers, singling out women of color in particular.

“We can raise the wages of every child care worker and preschool teacher in America,” she said. “That is an investment in our babies and their moms and dads. And it’s an investment in our teachers and our economy.”

Mr. Biden, who said he believed that “people who are not able to afford any of the infant care to be able to get that care,” referenced his experience raising two sons after his wife and a baby daughter were killed in a 1972 car crash.

“I was a single parent too,” he said. “When my wife and daughter were killed, my two boys I had to raise, I was a senator, a young senator.”

Halfway through Tuesday’s debate, the conflict has been muted as the candidates have shown little inclination to attack each other while they aim to refocus ire against President Trump.

Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders each defused the clashes between them that dominated the last two days. Mr. Buttigieg didn’t take shots at Ms. Warren or Mr. Sanders about health care, despite the opportunity. And Mr. Biden has once again avoided being attacked by his opponents, despite leading every national poll of the race.

It’s a reflection of the muddled state of the race. With four candidates in a functional dead heat in polls of Iowa and New Hampshire, there is little incentive for any of them to risk being seen in a negative light by going on the attack.

The only candidate onstage who appeared eager to throw punches was Ms. Klobuchar, who remains in the high single digits in Iowa polling, leaving her well below the 15 percent threshold to accrue any delegates in Iowa’s Feb. 3 caucuses that are necessary to win the Democratic nomination.

Ms. Warren cast Mr. Biden and Mr. Buttigieg as incrementalists on health care, saying that their proposals “are an improvement over where we are now,” but are only a “small improvement.”

Mr. Biden and Mr. Buttigieg support adding a public option to the health care system, but oppose the sweeping single-payer Medicare for all proposal.

“It’s just not true that the plan I’m proposing is small,” Mr. Buttigieg shot back. “We have to move past Washington mentality that suggests that the bigness of plans only consist of how many trillions of dollars they put through the Treasury. That the boldness of a plan consists of how many people it can alienate.”

Ms. Klobuchar also jumped into the fray, accusing Ms. Warren of offering shifting answers in her own health care proposal.

“You acknowledge that Medicare for all, you couldn’t get there right away,” Ms. Klobuchar said. “You got on the bill that said on page eight that you would kick 149 million Americans off their current health insurance. Then a few months ago you said you’ll wait awhile to get there, and I think that was some acknowledgment that maybe what we’re talking about it is true.”

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Can a woman beat Donald Trump? Look at the men on this stage: Collectively, they have lost 10 elections. The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women.

Westlake Legal Group 14vid-debate-clip4-promo-videoSixteenByNine3000 Highlights From the January 2020 Democratic Debate in Iowa Warren, Elizabeth Steyer, Thomas F Sanders, Bernard Primaries and Caucuses Presidential Election of 2020 Klobuchar, Amy Iowa DES MOINES, Iowa Democratic Party Debates (Political) Buttigieg, Pete (1982- ) Biden, Joseph R Jr

CreditCredit…Jordan Gale for The New York Times

Mr. Sanders emphatically insisted that he did not make the comment that Ms. Warren has attributed to him: that a woman could not be elected president.

“Well, as a matter of fact, I didn’t say it,” he said. “And I don’t want to waste a whole lot of time on this, because this is what Donald Trump and maybe some of the media want.”

Ms. Warren said she disagreed with Mr. Sanders but sought to defuse the conflict.

“Bernie is my friend and I’m not here to fight with Bernie,” she said.

Ms. Warren continued, leaning fully into her electability argument.

“The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women: Amy and me,” she said. “And the only person who has beaten an incumbent Republican any time in the past 30 years is me.”

The clash between Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders veered, briefly, into unusual territory: math.

The disagreement unfolded after Ms. Warren said that “the only person on this stage who has beaten an incumbent Republican anytime in the past 30 years is me.”

“Well, just to set the record straight, I defeated an incumbent Republican running for Congress,” Mr. Sanders said.

“When?” Ms. Warren asked. Mr. Sanders said that in 1990, he beat a Republican congressman.

Ms. Warren pressed him again on the timing. “I said, I was the only one who’s beaten an incumbent Republican in 30 years,” Ms. Warren said.

“Well, 30 years ago is 1990, as a matter of fact,” Mr. Sanders replied.

Mr. Biden sought to bridge the divide about whether a woman can win by bemoaning the factionalism that he said could prevent Democrats from defeating President Trump.

“The real issue is who can bring the party together and represent all elements of the party,” he said. “African-American, brown, black, women, men. Gay, straight. The fact of the matter is, I would argue that, in terms of endorsement around the country, endorsements where ever we go, I have the broadest coalition of anyone running up where in this race.”

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I would not meet with — absent preconditions. I would not meet with the “supreme leader” who said, “Joe Biden is a rabid dog, he should be beaten to death with a stick.”

Westlake Legal Group 14debate-livebriefing-biden2-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600 Highlights From the January 2020 Democratic Debate in Iowa Warren, Elizabeth Steyer, Thomas F Sanders, Bernard Primaries and Caucuses Presidential Election of 2020 Klobuchar, Amy Iowa DES MOINES, Iowa Democratic Party Debates (Political) Buttigieg, Pete (1982- ) Biden, Joseph R Jr

CreditCredit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Mr. Biden mocked the North Korean regime, which has lashed Mr. Biden with graphic insults — and the former vice president received backup from his rival, Mr. Sanders.

“I would not meet with — absent preconditions, I would not meet with the, quote, Supreme Leader, who said ‘Joe Biden is a rabid dog, he should be beaten to death with a stick,’” Mr. Biden said.

“Other than that, you like him,” Mr. Sanders interjected wryly, referencing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

“Other than that, I like him, and he got a love letter from Trump right after that,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Sanders took another opportunity to obliquely swipe at Mr. Biden’s vote to authorize the war in Iraq when asked about America’s role in the Middle East.

“What we have to face as a nation is that the two great foreign policy disasters of our lifetimes, with the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq. Both of those wars were based on lies,” Mr. Sanders said, adding that he feared President Trump could lead the nation into another war amid tensions between the United States and Iran.

Mr. Biden did not take on Mr. Sanders of Iraq, choosing to emphasize another element of his foreign policy record: the nuclear deal with Iran, achieved during the Obama administration.

“I was part of that deal to get the nuclear agreement with Iran, bringing together the rest of the world, including some of the folks who aren’t friendly to us,” Mr. Biden said. “And it was working.”

Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Buttigieg each said they would not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, though neither of them stipulated what they would do beyond negotiations to stop Iran from doing so.

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Our military is the finest military on Earth, and they will take any sacrifice we ask them to take. But we should stop asking our military to solve problems that cannot be solved militarily.

Westlake Legal Group 14debate-livebriefing-warren-video-videoSixteenByNine3000 Highlights From the January 2020 Democratic Debate in Iowa Warren, Elizabeth Steyer, Thomas F Sanders, Bernard Primaries and Caucuses Presidential Election of 2020 Klobuchar, Amy Iowa DES MOINES, Iowa Democratic Party Debates (Political) Buttigieg, Pete (1982- ) Biden, Joseph R Jr

CreditCredit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Another split in the candidates emerged on foreign policy. Ms. Warren, Mr. Buttigieg and Mr. Sanders said they’d remove combat troops from Iraq, while Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Biden said they would leave some in place.

“I would leave some troops there, but not in the level that Donald Trump is taking us right now,” Ms. Klobuchar said.

Ms. Warren said that it is time to bring the troops home. “I think we need to get our combat troops out,” she said. “You know, we have to stop this mind-set that we can do everything with combat troops. Our military is the finest military on Earth. And they will take any sacrifice we ask them to take. But we should stop asking our military to solve problems that cannot be solved militarily.”

And Mr. Buttigieg said: “We can continue to remain engaged without having an endless commitment of ground troops. But what’s going on right now is the president’s actually sending more.”

Mr. Buttigieg said if he is elected president and asks Congress to authorize military force overseas, he would ask for the legislation to expire after three years.

“When I am president, anytime — which I hope will never happen — but anytime I am compelled to use force and seek that authorization, we will have a three-year sunset, so that the American people are included, not only in the decision about whether to send troops, but whether to continue,” he said.

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Democrats Debate Stances on War and a Woman’s Chance at the White House

Westlake Legal Group 14debate-ledeall-new1-facebookJumbo Democrats Debate Stances on War and a Woman’s Chance at the White House Warren, Elizabeth Trump, Donald J Steyer, Thomas F Sanders, Bernard Primaries and Caucuses Presidential Election of 2020 Klobuchar, Amy DES MOINES, Iowa Democratic Party Debates (Political) Buttigieg, Pete (1982- ) Biden, Joseph R Jr

DES MOINES — The leading Democratic presidential candidates clashed on Tuesday over America’s role in the Middle East and their credentials to be commander in chief, as the progressive candidates highlighted their dovish credentials and the moderates called for pragmatism in the last debate before the high-stakes Iowa caucuses next month.

The six candidates also debated the fraught subject of whether a woman could win the presidency, an issue that had produced a breach in recent days between the two top liberal candidates, Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Meeting onstage for the first time since President Trump ordered the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani of Iran this month, and in a state known for its anti-interventionist tendencies, each of the six contenders urged restraint about projecting American power.

But Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren were especially vocal in arguing that American troops should not be committed to the Middle East.

“The American people are sick and tired of endless wars,“ Mr. Sanders declared.

Ms. Warren invoked the parade of generals who claimed progress in Afghanistan as they testified before her at the Senate Armed Services Committee and said it is time to withdraw combat troops from the region.

“We’ve turned the corner so many times we’re going in circles in these regions,” she said. “This has got to stop. It’s not enough to say, ‘Someday, we’re going to get out.’”

Joseph R. Biden Jr., however, was more cautious on troop commitments. While he boasted about his efforts as vice president to draw down American forces from Iraq, he said there was a difference between deploying waves of combat troops and retaining the American special forces he said had degraded the Islamic State. “They’ll come back if we do not deal with them,” Mr. Biden said of the group, also known as ISIS.

At the same time, both Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., both said they were opposed to a conflict with Iran but vowed to stop the country from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The debate over a woman’s chances to win the White House followed two days of acrimony between Mr. Sanders’s campaign and Ms. Warren’s. On the eve of the debate, CNN reported that in December 2018 Mr. Sanders told Ms. Warren in a private meeting that he did not think a woman could win the presidency. Before the debate, Mr. Sanders denied he had said it; Ms. Warren said he had.

Mr. Sanders stood by his denial — “As a matter of fact I didn’t say it,” he said onstage — and said it was “incomprehensible that I would think that a woman couldn’t be president of the United States.” Citing that Hillary Clinton won a plurality of votes in the 2016 general election, he went on, “How could anyone in a million years not believe a woman could become president of the United States?”

Ms. Warren said she disagreed with Mr. Sanders’s version, but then tried to de-escalate the conflict, saying “Bernie is my friend and I am not here to try to fight with Bernie.’’ She pivoted to address a question that has loomed over her candidacy: how she matches up against Mr. Trump, and said the women onstage — Ms. Warren and Ms. Klobuchar — had outperformed the men.

“Collectively they have lost 10 elections,” Ms. Warren said. “The only people on this stage who have won every single election they have been in are the women: Amy and me. And the only person on this stage who has beaten an incumbent Republican in the past 30 years is me.”

The clash onstage could be consequential for the treasuries of the candidates in the closing weeks, as well. The Sanders campaign said it had received 15,000 donations in just the first hour of the debate — accounting for 43 percent of all money raised on ActBlue, the party’s online donation-processing platform.

In a rare policy split, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren clashed on the new North American trade deal that Mr. Trump is trying to push through Congress. Mr. Sanders said it was not worth supporting — even if it made a “modest” improvement. “We can do much better than a Trump-led trade deal,” he said.

Ms. Warren, however, said that was the reason to support it. “We have farmers here in Iowa who are hurting,” she said.

The exchange was an example of how Ms. Warren has sought to position herself as a progressive more willing to get things done than Mr. Sanders.

The candidates sparred, as they have in all the debates, on health care. Mr. Sanders was pressed by the moderators about the cost of his “Medicare for all” package; unlike Ms. Warren, Mr. Sanders has not said what his proposal would cost or revealed which taxes he would increase to pay for it.

Mr. Sanders did not offer specifics onstage, saying only that it would cost “substantially less than the status quo.” Mr. Biden hit him for the size of the plan, which he said would double “the entire federal budget per year.” Mr. Sanders responded by saying that leaving the system as is would be “insane,” given how much of a worker’s earnings is devoted to health care.

Ms. Warren, who has found herself on the defensive over her embrace of Medicare for all in recent months, did not open by defending that package but instead focused on the first step of her transition plan, which would expand coverage with a public option.

“We have got to get as much help to as many people as quickly as possible,” she said, while pitching her plan as more expansive than those offered by Ms. Klobuchar or Mr. Buttigieg.

Ms. Klobuchar responded, “You would kick 149 million Americans off their health insurance.” And Mr. Buttigieg said, “It’s just not true that the plan I’m proposing is small,” suggesting that Ms. Warren’s approach would turn off too many voters.

The debate unfolded at an extraordinarily volatile moment in American politics — even by the standards of an unusually fluid primary race.

New polls in Iowa show that Democratic voters are roughly split between four top candidates, the longstanding nonaggression pact between Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders was fraying and half the contenders onstage are about to leave the campaign trail in the crucial days before the caucuses to serve as jurors at President Trump’s impeachment trial.

A large part of the electorate remains up for grabs in a contest that many of the campaigns believe will produce record-setting turnout. A Des Moines Register-CNN poll last week indicated that 45 percent of caucusgoers said they could still be persuaded to support a different candidate. And Tuesday’s debate was sure to reach more voters than any other event in the dwindling days before the Feb. 3 caucuses.

The four leading candidates in Iowa — Mr. Sanders, Mr. Biden, Ms. Warren and Mr. Buttigieg — are knotted so tightly together that Mr. Biden was fourth in the poll last week, but first in another, from Monmouth University. Mr. Sanders topped the Des Moines Register/CNN poll for the first time, putting perhaps the biggest target on his back yet ahead of a debate.

Mr. Sanders had the opportunity right from the start to stress his pacifist credentials as the debate opened with questions about the heightened tensions with Iran and who was best positioned to serve as commander in chief. Mr. Sanders immediately seized the opportunity to trumpet his past opposition to the war in Iraq. “I not only voted against the war, I helped lead the effort against the war,” he said.

Mr. Sanders warned that both the Iraq and Vietnam wars had been based on “lies.” “Right now, what I fear very much is that we have a president that is lying again and could drag us into a war that is even worse than the war in Iraq,” he said.

Mr. Sanders drew a distinction with Mr. Biden, who had supported the Iraq war resolution in the Senate. “Joe and I listened to what Dick Cheney and George Bush and Rumsfeld had to say,” Mr. Sanders said. “I thought they were lying. Joe saw it differently.”

Mr. Biden said he regretted his vote for that war. “I was a mistake and I acknowledge that,” Mr. Biden said, while noting that as vice president he had brought thousands of troops home from the Middle East.

The rift between Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders over whether a woman could be elected had been the dominant news of the primary the last several days, and had the ability to shake up the race if it divides the liberal camp and weakens either Mr. Sanders or Ms. Warren, or both of them, and produces a stronger moderate lane chiefly occupied by Mr. Biden.

Progressive activists who have hoped that either Mr. Sanders or Ms. Warren would emerge from a scrambled primary race were hoping that the sudden left-on-left violence would abate. And there were signs that both the Sanders and Warren campaigns would try to de-escalate the tension.

But in a sign that Mr. Sanders, whose most fervent online supporters have long faced claims of sexism, recognized the grave political risk of the accusations, his campaign began airing an ad in Iowa on Tuesday morning that highlighted his support of women’s rights.

“Bernie Sanders is on our side and he always has been,” a female narrator says in the commercial, trumpeting the senator’s support for abortion rights, support for family leave guarantees and equal pay legislation.

In another twist that had potential to impact the race in Iowa, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren, as well as Ms. Klobuchar and Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado (who did not make the debate), are confronting another looming challenge: how to mount a successful Iowa campaign while their duties in Congress require them to be in Washington.

With the senators likely to be in the Capitol up to six days a week for the impeachment trial of Mr. Trump, they will be unable to make their final appeals to Iowa voters in person as frequently as Mr. Biden and Mr. Buttigieg.

That could make for a most unusual ending of the caucuses in their over-four-decade history: a split-screen between candidates hustling for votes in the state’s high school gyms and union halls and others seated at their desks in the Senate chamber deliberating about whether to remove from office the president they are trying to defeat.

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January 2020 Democratic Debate in Iowa: Live Updates

Here’s what you need to know:

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_167147562_294e849d-f254-4b3e-8955-89bcafa731d8-articleLarge January 2020 Democratic Debate in Iowa: Live Updates Warren, Elizabeth Steyer, Thomas F Sanders, Bernard Primaries and Caucuses Presidential Election of 2020 Klobuchar, Amy Iowa DES MOINES, Iowa Democratic Party Debates (Political) Buttigieg, Pete (1982- ) Biden, Joseph R Jr

Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

There were more sparks between Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders on health care, with Mr. Biden whacking Mr. Sanders for his “Medicare for all” proposal.

“I think we need to be candid with voters and tell them what it will cost,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Sanders dodged a question about the overall costs of his health care proposal, seeking to reframe the question into what individuals would pay for health care rather than what it would cost the government.

“What I will tell you is Medicare for all which will guarantee comprehensive health care to every man, woman and child will cost substantially less than the status quo,” he said.

Ms. Warren, who is a proponent of Medicare for all, expressed her allegiance to the Affordable Care Act, the health care status quo that Mr. Sanders is campaigning to undo.

“I will defend the Affordable Care Act,” Ms. Warren said. “I have a plan to expand health care. When we come to a general election, we may argue among each other about the best way to do health care. We’re going to be up against a Republican incumbent who has cut health care for millions of people in and still trying to do that. I’ll take our side of the argument any day. We’ll beat him on this.”

And Ms. Klobuchar came in with another roundhouse at Mr. Sanders, hoping to get drawn into the conflict between him and Mr. Biden.

“I think you should show how you’re going to pay for things, Bernie. I do. This president is treating people out there like poker chips in a bankrupt casino. The way he is adding to the debt,” she said.

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Westlake Legal Group 14vid-debate-clip4-promo-videoSixteenByNine3000 January 2020 Democratic Debate in Iowa: Live Updates Warren, Elizabeth Steyer, Thomas F Sanders, Bernard Primaries and Caucuses Presidential Election of 2020 Klobuchar, Amy Iowa DES MOINES, Iowa Democratic Party Debates (Political) Buttigieg, Pete (1982- ) Biden, Joseph R Jr

CreditCredit…Jordan Gale for The New York Times

Mr. Sanders emphatically insisted that he did not make the comment that Ms. Warren has attributed to him: That a woman could not be elected president.

“Well, as a matter of fact, I didn’t say it,” he said. “And I don’t want to waste a whole lot of time on this, because this is what Donald Trump and maybe some of the media want.”

Ms. Warren said she disagreed with Mr. Sanders but sought to defuse the conflict.

“Bernie is my friend and I’m not here to fight with Bernie,” she said.

Ms. Warren continued, leaning fully into her electability argument.

“The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women: Amy and me,” she said. “And the only person who has beaten an incumbent Republican any time in the past 30 years is me.”

The clash between Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders veered, briefly, into unusual territory: math.

The disagreement unfolded after Ms. Warren said that “the only person on this stage who has beaten an incumbent Republican anytime in the past 30 years is me.”

“Well, just to set the record straight, I defeated an incumbent Republican running for Congress,” Mr. Sanders said.

“When?” Ms. Warren asked. Mr. Sanders said that in 1990, he beat a Republican congressman.

Ms. Warren pressed him again on the timing. “I said, I was the only one who’s beaten an incumbent Republican in 30 years,” Ms. Warren said.

“Well, 30 years ago is 1990, as a matter of fact,” Mr. Sanders replied.

Mr. Biden sought to bridge the divide about whether a woman can win by bemoaning the factionalism that he said could prevent Democrats from defeating President Trump.

“The real issue is who can bring the party together and represent all elements of the party,” he said. “African-American, brown, black, women, men. Gay, straight. The fact of the matter is, I would argue that, in terms of endorsement around the country, endorsements where ever we go, I have the broadest coalition of anyone running up where in this race.”

Mr. Sanders defended his opposition to the U.S.M.C.A. North American trade deal, even though he said it is an improvement on Nafta.

“We can do much better than a Trump-led trade deal,” Mr. Sanders said. Pressed on whether he is willing to compromise at all on trade, Mr. Sanders pivoted to climate change.

“Every environmental organization in this country, including the Sunrise organization, who is supporting my candidacy, opposes it,” he said.

Ms. Warren followed by arguing that the U.S.M.C.A. is better than the status quo, and should be seen as the first step toward getting a better deal.

“Let’s help the people who need help now,” she said. Asked why he disagrees with Ms. Warren, Mr. Sanders said implementing the U.S.M.C.A. will “set us back a number of years,” though he passed on an opportunity to draw additional contrast with Ms. Warren.

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I would not meet with — absent preconditions. I would not meet with the “supreme leader” who said, “Joe Biden is a rabid dog, he should be beaten to death with a stick.”

Westlake Legal Group 14debate-livebriefing-biden2-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600 January 2020 Democratic Debate in Iowa: Live Updates Warren, Elizabeth Steyer, Thomas F Sanders, Bernard Primaries and Caucuses Presidential Election of 2020 Klobuchar, Amy Iowa DES MOINES, Iowa Democratic Party Debates (Political) Buttigieg, Pete (1982- ) Biden, Joseph R Jr

CreditCredit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Mr. Biden mocked the North Korean regime, which has lashed Mr. Biden with graphic insults — and the former vice president received backup from his rival, Mr. Sanders.

“I would not meet with — absent preconditions, I would not meet with the, quote, Supreme Leader, who said ‘Joe Biden is a rabid dog, he should be beaten to death with a stick,’” Mr. Biden said.

“Other than that, you like him,” Mr. Sanders interjected wryly, referencing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

“Other than that, I like him, and he got a love letter from Trump right after that,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Sanders took another opportunity to obliquely swipe at Mr. Biden’s vote to authorize the war in Iraq when asked about America’s role in the Middle East.

“What we have to face as a nation is that the two great foreign policy disasters of our lifetimes, with the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq. Both of those wars were based on lies,” Mr. Sanders said, adding that he feared President Trump could lead the nation into another war amid tensions between the United States and Iran.

Mr. Biden did not take on Mr. Sanders of Iraq, choosing to emphasize another element of his foreign policy record: the nuclear deal with Iran, achieved during the Obama administration.

“I was part of that deal to get the nuclear agreement with Iran, bringing together the rest of the world, including some of the folks who aren’t friendly to us,” Mr. Biden said. “And it was working.”

Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Buttigieg each said they would not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, though neither of them stipulated what they would do beyond negotiations to stop Iran from doing so.

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Our military is the finest military on Earth, and they will take any sacrifice we ask them to take. But we should stop asking our military to solve problems that cannot be solved militarily.

Westlake Legal Group 14debate-livebriefing-warren-video-videoSixteenByNine3000 January 2020 Democratic Debate in Iowa: Live Updates Warren, Elizabeth Steyer, Thomas F Sanders, Bernard Primaries and Caucuses Presidential Election of 2020 Klobuchar, Amy Iowa DES MOINES, Iowa Democratic Party Debates (Political) Buttigieg, Pete (1982- ) Biden, Joseph R Jr

CreditCredit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Another split in the candidates emerged on foreign policy. Ms. Warren, Mr. Buttigieg and Mr. Sanders said they’d remove combat troops from Iraq, while Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Biden said they would leave some in place.

“I would leave some troops there, but not in the level that Donald Trump is taking us right now,” Ms. Klobuchar said.

Ms. Warren said that it is time to bring the troops home. “I think we need to get our combat troops out,” she said. “You know, we have to stop this mind-set that we can do everything with combat troops. Our military is the finest military on Earth. And they will take any sacrifice we ask them to take. But we should stop asking our military to solve problems that cannot be solved militarily.”

And Mr. Buttigieg said: “We can continue to remain engaged without having an endless commitment of ground troops. But what’s going on right now is the president’s actually sending more.”

Mr. Buttigieg said if he is elected president and asks Congress to authorize military force overseas, he would ask for the legislation to expire after three years.

“When I am president, anytime — which I hope will never happen — but anytime I am compelled to use force and seek that authorization, we will have a three-year sunset, so that the American people are included, not only in the decision about whether to send troops, but whether to continue,” he said.

The moderator Wolf Blitzer opened the debate on foreign policy, asking Mr. Sanders why he’d be the best commander in chief. Mr. Sanders wasted no time in going on the attack against Mr. Biden, drawing a contrast on foreign policy by reiterating his opposition to the Iraq War, and his 2002 vote against authorizing the conflict. That left Mr. Biden to defend his 17-year-old vote.

“I said 13 years ago it was a mistake to give the president the authority to go to war,” Mr. Biden said. “It was a mistake; I acknowledged that.” He then quickly mentioned that Barack Obama opposed the war from the state and noted that Mr. Obama chose him as his running mate.

“I think my record overall on everything I’ve ever done, I’m prepared to compare it to anybody on this stage,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Sanders shot back: “Joe and I listened to what Dick Cheney and George Bush and Rumsfeld had to say. I thought they were lying. Joe saw it differently.”

Ms. Klobuchar, who has sought to portray herself as a unifier while other candidates are drawing contrasts with each other, said the real issue is beating President Trump.

“What we should be talking about is what is happening right now with Donald Trump,” Ms. Klobuchar said. “Donald Trump is taking us pell mell toward another war.”

While Mr. Blitzer tried to pit Ms. Klobuchar against Mr. Buttigieg on the issue, the two moderate rivals barely engaged. Instead, Mr. Buttigieg, 37, drew an implicit contrast over age with Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders, who are in their late 70s. Mr. Buttigieg, a former Naval intelligence officer, stressed his own military experience while offering an unsubtle reminder of how long Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders have served in Washington.

“There are enlisted people that I served with, barely old enough to remember those votes on the authorization after 9/11 on the war in Iraq,” Mr. Buttigieg said.

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were out first, and they gave each other a warm handshake and shared a few words. Elizabeth Warren was out next, shaking Mr. Biden’s hand and then reaching over to Mr. Sanders, who was looking elsewhere; he noticed her, smiled and joined in a handshake.

There was no evident tension in the moment, even though Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren spent Monday in a standoff over her accusation that he told her in 2018 that a woman could not win the presidency. He has denied the remark.

Pete Buttigieg, Tom Steyer and Amy Klobuchar rounded out the candidates taking their places onstage.

Ms. Warren’s top aides and her new surrogate Julián Castro have been telegraphing a message of unity, promoting Ms. Warren as the candidate who can bridge the party’s progressive and moderate wings.

That’ll be hard if she’s stoking a war with Mr. Sanders.

Ms. Warren is going to try anyway, having already adopted most of Mr. Sanders’s platform without some of his harder edges. She’s sure to be asked about reports in recent days that Sanders volunteers disparaged her election chances in calls to Iowa Democrats and the report, followed by her confirmation, that Mr. Sanders told her a woman could not be elected president.

There’s little evidence that Sanders supporters can be moved away from the Vermont senator, but it is incumbent upon Ms. Warren to demonstrate to moderate and undecided Iowans that she can appeal to all elements of the party and, as she often says in her remarks, win Republican votes for proposals like her wealth tax.

Reporting was contributed by Nick Corasaniti, Michael M. Grynbaum, Stephanie Saul, Matt Stevens and Marc Tracy.

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