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2020 Daily Trail Markers: Warren and Sanders set to take the gloves off at Tuesday's debate

DNC Chair Tom Perez on the state of play for the Democratic nomination
DNC Chair Tom Perez on the state of play for ... 07:07

Note: This has been updated to include Elizabeth Warren's response to the report.

Bernie Sanders denied a report Monday that, in a private meeting in December 2018, he told Elizabeth Warren that he didn't believe a woman could win the presidency. 

The two progressives have appeared to have an unspoken agreement not to attack one another directly during previous debates. But on the eve of the seventh presidential debate and weeks away from the Iowa caucuses, the courtesy they've shown toward each other is sure to be tested on the debate stage. 

Sanders' campaign released an angry statement from the Vermont senator in response to the report published by CNN. "It is ludicrous to believe that at the same meeting where Elizabeth Warren told me she was going to run for president, I would tell her that a woman couldn't win," Sanders said in the statement. "It's sad that, three weeks before the Iowa caucus and a year after that private conversation, staff who weren't in the room are lying about what happened."

But in a discussion about President Trump's tactics, according to Sanders, sexism did come up during their conversation. "What I did say that night was that Donald Trump is a sexist, a racist and a liar who would weaponize whatever he could," he said. He went on to invoke his primary opponent in 2016, who defeated him for the Democratic nod but lost to Mr. Trump in the general election

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

On Monday evening, Warren released her recollection of the December 2018 meeting with Sanders. She said in a statement that they had met for "more than two hours" and discussed their work and goals, including beating Mr. Trump.

"Among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate," Warren continued. "I thought a woman could win; he disagreed." 

To refute the accusation, Sanders' supporters are also pointing to video of a comment he made in 1988, when he said, "The real issue is not whether you're black or white, whether you're a woman or a man — in my view a woman could be elected president of the United States — the real issue is whose side are you on?" 

***Cara Korte, Ed O'Keefe and Zak Hudak contributed to this report.

UP FOR DEBATE

HAWKEYE SHOWDOWN

Six Democratic Presidential candidates will get a chance to make a big pitch to caucus-goers during tomorrow night's Democratic Primary debate in Des Moines, Iowa – former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Bernie Sanders, businessman Tom Steyer and Senator Elizabeth Warren. As the field of candidates continue to narrow down, CBS News campaign reporters Musadiq Bidar and Adam Brewster say polling suggests the race to win Iowa is more fluid than ever before.

A recent Des Moines Register/CNN poll showed Sanders leading the pack with 20%, followed by Warren (17%), Buttigieg (16%), and Biden (15%). Klobuchar in that poll was at 6% and Steyer was at 2%. The fluidity among the top tier was indicated by a Monmouth University Poll released on Monday showing Biden leading the pack with 24% followed by Sanders (18%), Buttigieg (17%) and Warren (15%). 

Although 40% of Iowans have made up their minds, according to the Des Moines Register poll, 45% said they could still be persuaded while another 13% said they don't have a first-choice candidate in mind. The debate will give candidates a chance to win over undecided voters, discuss issues that concern Iowans, and differentiate themselves with about three weeks to go until caucus night. 

The Des Moines Register poll found that 82% of likely Democratic caucus-goers say how a candidate has performed on the debate stage is "extremely important" or "important" for deciding which candidate they plan to support. Former Iowa Democratic Party Chair Sue Dvorsky said she's not sure whether Tuesday's debate will fully sway any undecided Iowans, but said it's an especially important night for the three Senators who could soon have an impeachment trial pulling them away from Iowa. 

"This is the end of the beginning," Dvorsky said. "There is a closing argument element to this, but for the senators there's a really important closing element because it is possible that they will not be on the ground making that case themselves." 

As for the issues Iowans care about, 68% of likely Democratic caucus-goers in the Des Moines Register poll said healthcare and climate change are "extremely" important issues for them. That was followed by the gap between rich poor Americans (59%) and foreign policy (57%). The impeachment inquiry is an "extremely important" issue for only 25% of Iowans.

The qualification criteria set by the Democratic National Committee has winnowed down the number of candidates on the debate stage. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, for example, had qualified for the previous six debates failed to reach the polling threshold set for Tuesday's debate. He will hold a town hall in Ames, Iowa instead. 

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who dropped out of the race Monday morning, cited a lack of money that he said is "harder to raise because I won't be on the debate stage." Booker also missed the cut for the December debate stage and had not qualified Tuesday night's debate. 

Ahead of that first debate in 2020, the CBS News Political Unit gives a rundown of what to watch for from the six presidential candidates who made it on stage plus other political news of the day in this special DEBATE edition of Trail Markers.

FROM THE CANDIDATES

CENTER STAGE

JOE BIDEN

VIA CBS NEWS CAMPAIGN REPORTER BO ERICKSON: His critics said he would falter by now, but with only weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, Joe Biden is still in the top tier of Democratic candidates. The recent CBS News Battleground Tracker poll had him tied for first place, while last week's Des Moines Register poll placed him fourth in an exceedingly tight race. 

After some rocky performances, the last debate was widely heralded as Biden's best. In the weeks since, foreign policy has been in the spotlight after the U.S. strike against Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and the subsequent retaliation. 

The discussion of foreign policy has allowed Biden to focus on one of his central messages: That he is ready to lead the free world "on day one" due to his global relationships and expertise. But Biden, a former Senate Foreign Relations committee chairman, is also vulnerable on this front, particularly due to his 2002 vote in favor of the Iraq War resolution. Sanders, in particular, has been especially critical of the former vice president's support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. 

Biden at first demurred and brushed off Sanders' criticism. But now as other candidates continue to bring up his vote, the former VP and his top surrogate at the moment, former Secretary of State John Kerry, say that the Bush administration misled Congress about the threat posed by Iraq and how they would combat it. However, Biden has not yet gone as far to label his vote for the war resolution a "mistake."

WHAT TO WATCH: Will his rivals demand he do so?

PETE BUTTIGIEG

VIA CBS NEWS CAMPAIGN REPORTER JACK TURMAN: With weeks until the Iowa caucuses, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has lost some ground in Iowa, according to the latest Des Moines Register poll. He registered in third place in the most recent poll, after leading the presidential field in November. 

In the December debate, Buttigieg was criticized by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren for transparency regarding his high dollar fundraisers. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar also pointed out Buttigieg's lack of Washington experience and noted that he lost a statewide race for treasurer in 2010.  But since the December debate, Buttigieg hasn't really modified his stump speech and has continued to focus on his message of unifying the country while staying true to his values. 

WHAT TO WATCH: With weeks until the Iowa caucus, what will be Buttigieg's message as he tries to regain momentum in Iowa?

AMY KLOBUCHAR

VIA CBS NEWS CAMPAIGN REPORTER BO ERICKSON: Top endorsers of Klobuchar's presidential bid describe the next few weeks as "high stakes" as she faces a critical presidential primary debate. Some of her Iowa endorsers, granted anonymity to speak candidly about the campaign, told CBS News they believe Klobuchar should aim to draw more contrast with former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday, a strategy she has previously avoided. "She needs to," one endorser said. 

Klobuchar set her sights on Pete Buttigieg during last debate for what she said was the millennial mayor's lack of experience. And on the campaign trail, she continues to demand that the nominee have a proven track record.

WHAT TO WATCH: The upcoming impeachment trial could send Klobuchar back to Washington before the caucuses. Will she use the debate to take a big swing at Buttigieg or Biden, two candidates who wouldn't have to leave the trail to deal with impeachment?  

BERNIE SANDERS

VIA CBS NEWS CAMPAIGN REPORTER CARA KORTE: All eyes are on Bernie Sanders this go around. He was riding high a week ago with his historic fourth-quarter fundraising and favorable polls, but his rivals quickly took notice. 

Sanders has been busy trading swipes with Biden over the former vice president's record on Iraq. The Vermont senator has even earned the attention of President Trump, who mocked the senator and his Democratic rivals at a recent rally, on Twitter and in an email to supporters. 

Both of these spats present good opportunities for Sanders. With Biden, Sanders can call into question the VP's foreign policy judgment and remind voters that, as an independent member of the House, he voted against the Iraq War. As for Mr. Trump, any attention from the White House is likely to reenforce the idea that Sanders is a realistic general election candidate.

But a deepening conflict with Elizabeth Warren could create some turbulence for Sanders. The Massachusetts senator told reporters Sunday that she was offended that Sanders' volunteers had reportedly received anti-Warren talking points. She also said that the Democratic Party can't repeat the "factionalism" that existed in 2016.  

In that moment, it's possible that their relationship changed. Sanders hates when people say or allude to him not supporting Hillary Clinton after she won the Democratic nomination in 2016. Voters sometimes ask about it and it clearly irks the senator, who says that he campaigned all over the country for the former Secretary of State. 

Sanders' staff hates it as well. They see it as a Clinton talking point and a low blow. From their standpoint, Warren "going there" by referring to factionalism brings us to a new level of tension between the candidates. 

While the volunteer talking points reportedly came from Sanders' staff, the Vermont senator himself has largely avoided directly critiquing Warren, his fellow progressive. Warren, however, has directly placed the blame on Sanders for the talking points, not his campaign's employees. 

Their fight only got messier on Monday, when CNN reported that Sanders had told Warren in a December 2018 meeting that a woman couldn't win the presidency. Warren's campaign has stayed publicly mum about the report, while Sanders has said it's totally false. 

"It's sad that, three weeks before the Iowa caucus and a year after that private conversation, staff who weren't in the room are lying about what happened," Sanders told CBS News. Translation: The Warren campaign is making a last-ditch effort to pull ahead in Iowa. But notice Sanders placing responsibility on Warren's staff and not the senator herself – a difference between their two approaches. 

WHAT TO WATCH: Will Sanders take it to Warren on the debate stage?

TOM STEYER

VIA CBS NEWS CAMPAIGN REPORTER ZAK HUDAK: Tom Steyer is ready to scratch and claw for airtime in the Iowa debate. "You're going to see tomorrow night that Tom is a fighter," National Press Secretary Alberto Lammers told CBS News. Steyer plans to aggressively pitch his business record and climate activism on stage Tuesday, according to his campaign.

The campaign argues that Steyer has been disadvantaged by networks giving other candidates more time on the debate stage and by a lack of polling in Nevada and South Carolina. But a pair of polls in the two states last week indicated Steyer may have something resembling momentum in those two early states. 

In Iowa, however, Steyer's polling has been stagnant, never breaking out of the single digits. His campaign argues that the four-way dead heat in Iowa has opened a lane for someone like him to emerge. "I don't think we can say there's a front-runner in Iowa right now," Lammers said. Still, while other candidates will rely on their Iowa and New Hampshire performances for fundraising, Steyer's personal wealth almost guarantees he'll make it to the states where he has more support. 

WHAT TO WATCH: Will Tom Steyer finally have a moment on the debate stage?

ELIZABETH WARREN

VIA CBS NEWS CAMPAIGN REPORTER ZAK HUDAK: After a year of dancing around one another, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have squared up just in time for the Iowa debate. The two have campaigned almost entirely under an unspoken truce to this point, but have recently taken subtle, but sharp jabs at one another. 

After a script given to Sanders volunteers reportedly suggested Warren was a candidate of the elite, an attack that has long-irked Warren loyalists, the dynamic between the two progressives reached a boiling point. "We all saw the impact of the factionalism in 2016, and we can't have a repeat of that. Democrats need to unite our party," Warren said in Iowa Sunday, after expressing her disappointment that "Bernie is sending his volunteers out to trash me." 

Sanders downplayed the memo, suggesting it hadn't come directly from him and calling its fallout "a little bit of a media blowup." Tensions grew Monday when CNN reported that four anonymous sources said Sanders told Warren in 2018 that he didn't think a woman could win the presidency. In a statement, Sanders called the accusation "ludicrous" and said, "staff who weren't in the room are lying about what happened." 

Warren's campaign declined to comment, but she and Sanders are all but certain to be asked whether the 2018 conversation happened in the debate Tuesday night

WHAT TO WATCH: Will Warren accuse Sanders of saying a woman can't win the presidency when they're on the debate stage?  Or alternatively, will she deny the report? 

NOT ON STAGE

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG

On Monday, former New York City Mayor and presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg called into question the Democratic Primary calendar and said it currently sets Democrats up for failure in the general election.  

In an op-ed published on CNN.com, the Democratic presidential candidate pledged that, as president, he would ensure that the DNC works with state party leaders to re-order the primary calendar. Bloomberg argues that currently the schedule causes Democrats to focus their resources on two small states, Iowa and New Hampshire, that are not representative of the country and are not helpful to Democrats winning in a general. 

"As a party, we are spending all of our time and resources outside of the battleground states we need to win." Bloomberg wrote. "Meanwhile, President Trump is spending his time in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina -- all states we lost in 2016 by razor-thin margins."

CBS News Campaign Reporter Tim Perry says that this is a major shift from Bloomberg's previous comments, with the former mayor saying as recently as last week that the current schedule should remain the same and that Iowa, in particular, should continue to go first. 

"I think we have a tradition here of four states: two with caucuses, two with elections. They've worked very hard. They love the attention. The system has gotten used to it and I guess the Democratic Party probably shouldn't take it away." Bloomberg told reporters after a delivering remarks in Akron, Ohio last Wednesday.  

"I campaigned in all four of those states, before I decided not to and I can only tell you I thought the cross section of society, they were smart, they asked the right questions, they're politically astute, and I thought to myself, 'ya know, it's a pretty good system.'" 

In response to Bloomberg, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley told CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga in a statement, "It seems like Michael Bloomberg is having some second thoughts about his choice not to campaign in South Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Iowa - and is doing what many candidates in that position have done who are desperate for some press attention." 

Buckley continued, "Also, anyone who thinks New Hampshire isn't consequential in the general election must also believe that Al Gore served a term as president of the United States."

Over the weekend, Bloomberg declined to weigh in on Bernie Sanders' surge in recent early-state polls, but Bloomberg told CBS News that he would support Sanders if the Vermont senator were to win the nomination. "I think that the number one thing is to replace Donald Trump, and while I certainly would disagree with Bernie on an awful lot of things, if it's Donald Trump vs. Bernie, I would support Bernie."

TULSI GABBARD

Representative Tulsi Gabbard has made a 10-day, $50,000 ad buy in New Hampshire featuring a new spot denouncing war overseas, according to CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. "I've seen the cost of war. When I came home, I promised to fight for peace," the ad reads. Gabbard will appear in an Iran-focused panel alongside former Congressman Dennis Kucinich and author Stephen Kinzer at NHTI Community College on Tuesday. 

DEVAL PATRICK

Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's campaign announced Tuesday that they'll air a 30-second ad in New Hampshire during Tuesday night's Democratic debate on CNN. CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga says the Patrick campaign has spent $107,000 on New Hampshire ad buys in the new year, according to Kantar Media. Monday night, Patrick will meet with a prominent gun control organization, Moms Demand Action, in a closed meeting in Stratham, New Hampshire.

ANDREW YANG

Andrew Yang will not be on the debate stage, but he will be in Iowa for a town hall event in Ames. CBS News political unit associate producer Ben Mitchell reports that the campaign insists this debate will be among the least viewed and will likely be drowned out by other events like the escalating situation in the Middle East. 

They also point to their rising poll numbers as a sign that they're still very competitive. Not being on stage, however, carries some risks. The debates have proven, for better or worse, to be "legitimizing" in some respects, and some candidates that have missed them in the past seen their campaigns flame out. But with the caucus right around the corner and enough money to compete in the early states, Yang may not need the visibility from being on stage this late in the game. However, if Iowans are watching to help them make up their minds before caucus day, Yang runs the risk of being an afterthought. He'll need to work twice as hard to keep potential Yang voters engaged.

STAMP OF ENDORSEMENT

WORKERS UNITE

Senator Bernie Sanders received the endorsement of New Hampshire's second largest union on Monday, SEA/SEIU Local 1984. Despite the local backing, its national affiliate organization, the Service Employees International Union, has remained neutral in the 2020 presidential race thus far. 

"We have constantly seen a decline in wages, benefits and pensions in this country," local President Rich Gulla told CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga of the decision. "For decades, the distribution of wealth keeps getting larger and larger, the middle class keeps getting smaller and smaller." A Sanders presidency, Gulla contended, could fix that. The chapter president also vowed the organization would support the eventual Democratic nominee.

Approximately 10,000 workers in New Hampshire belong to the union's collective bargaining contract. The chapter also endorsed Sanders in 2016, though its national wing supported Hillary Clinton. 

In September, Sanders met with employees of the Rockingham County Nursing Home ahead of a vote to unionize under the SEIU Local 1984, speaking with employees at a rally. "Now they're standing with him," New Hampshire State Director and longtime aid to Senator Bernie Sanders Shannon McLeod told CBS News. "They've come out to say we're with you, you're the best candidate in our eyes for the state of New Hampshire, for the president of the United States. And it is such an honor to have their endorsement."

BIG APPLE BOOSTS

Congressman Max Rose of New York's 11th district announced his endorsement for former-New York City Mayor Bloomberg on Monday. In a release from Bloomberg's campaign, Rose talked about the work Bloomberg did after 9/11 and said he "brought New York City back to life and put us on track to lead in the 21st century." Rose also said Bloomberg's "even keeled and visionary leadership is what we need to reduce the chaos, partisanship and hyper-vitriol that has overtaken Washington."

CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro reports that Rose raised more than $1.2 million in the fourth quarter and has $2.5 million cash on hand going into 2020. Rose flipped the seat covering Staten Island and part of Brooklyn by more than six points in 2018, though Mr. Trump captured the district by about 9 points in 2016. 

Rose's numbers continue a trend of strong fundraising for incumbent House Democrats. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairwoman Cheri Bustos of Illinois told reporters earlier this month that the DCCC "Frontline" members, which are those in competitive districts, have raised more than $91 million this cycle. "There's a lot of enthusiasm out there. Donald Trump is not only the best recruiter that House Democrats have ever seen, he's also the best fundraiser from House Democrats that we've ever seen," Bustos added.

Meanwhile, Upstate New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney endorsed Vice President Joe Biden on Monday.

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE HOUSE

Another New York representative, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, brought in nearly $2 million in the fourth quarter and has nearly $3 million on hand. Ocasio-Cortez is not facing a competitive battle for re-election and is looking to use her fundraising power to help other candidates. 

Over the weekend, she announced the creation of her Courage to Change PAC to reward candidates "who reject lobbyist money, fight for working families and welcome newcomers." It reportedly raised $69,000 on its first day. CBS news political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro says the move to help fund other candidates comes as Fox News reported that Ocasio-Cortez is withholding $250,000 in dues to the DCCC because of its policy of not granting contracts to pollsters, specialists and strategists working with a Democratic primary challenger. 

"I can choose not to fund that kind of exclusion," she tweeted. "Expanding a House majority is critical, which is why I regularly (and happily) fundraise sizeable amounts for fellow members."

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