Warren and Sanders fed the genre.

Sanders heatedly denied the report, that his campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, told CNN that it was “a lie.”

“It is absurd to believe that at the same meeting where Elizabeth Warren told me that she was going to run for president, I would tell her that a woman could not win,” Sanders said in a statement.

Two people with knowledge of the conversation at the 2018 dinner at Warren’s house told The Washington Post that Warren posed the problem by asking Sanders if he thought a woman could win. One of the people with knowledge of the conversation said that Sanders did not say that a woman could not win, but that Trump would use dire tactics against the Democratic candidate.

“What I said that night was that Donald Trump is sexist, racist and liar who would put together everything he could,” Sanders said in the statement. “Do I think a woman can win in 2020? Of course! After all, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 3 million votes in 2016. ”

Warren’s campaign issued a statement on Monday night saying that a candidate’s fate was among the issues that “emerged.”

“I thought a woman could win; he did not agree, “he said, adding:” I have no interest in continuing to discuss this private meeting because Bernie and I have much more in common than our differences in wisdom. “

The dispute took place before a debate in Des Moines, whose importance is reinforced by an unprecedented circumstance: shortly after the debate, three of the six participants: Sanders, Warren and Senator Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota Democrat) will leave for Washington . when the political trial of President Trump begins.

The unpredictable political trial schedule means that all three will likely only have a limited amount of time in Iowa in the three weeks prior to the February 3 meetings, which will limit their ability to connect with voters here in the final leg of the Bell.

It was not immediately clear how the gender dispute would be taken by those voters. Since the defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016 before Donald Trump, many voters have expressed deep concern about the chances of another woman defeating him by reelection. Former Vice President Joe Biden touched on the issue earlier this month when he noticed that Clinton faced “unfair” sexism during his campaign.

“That is not going to happen to me,” Biden said.

Warren has increasingly worked to revive the anti-Trump spirit of the Women’s March of 2017 and persuade women to side with her.

A September poll in the Washington Post found that 23 percent of Democrats and independents with a Democratic tendency said a man would be more likely than a woman to defeat Trump in November.

The broader issue of eligibility has been pending the campaign since its inception. Upon entering the debate on Tuesday, four of the top contenders have sharpened their arguments about why they represent the biggest rival for Trump in November.

Biden is expected to highlight his experience in foreign policy, according to an advisor who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations of the debate. The issue has emerged in the minds of many voters amid recent skirmishes with Iran, and Biden has offered itself as a safe bet against a president that many in the party detest.

The senior advisor said Biden will try to argue on Tuesday that his eight years of experience in the White House with the commander in chief make him the right choice.

“I think he will say that Trump’s dangerous actions speak of why it is so important to hire someone who, on the first day, can start picking up the pieces,” said Biden’s advisor. “Biden has that experience. He has sat in the situation room. He has extensive experience in the Foreign Relations Committee. “

Biden, whose camp had minimized his chances in Iowa, has increased his agenda in Iowa, recently beating Warren by the number of events held in the state. He has more than doubled his spending on television commercials, with his campaign and a super PAC that supports him by spending more than anyone in the past two weeks. He has secured the most coveted endorsements in the state, has sent substitutes from other states to campaign on his behalf and is planning significant time in the state over the next week.

“For a long time we have had a theory of the case in Iowa and elsewhere it is when it comes to pushing, caucusgoers are primarily concerned with one thing above all: hit Trump,” said Pete Kavanaugh, deputy campaign director for Biden .

Sanders is also addressing the debate on Biden’s foreign policy record, but to make the opposite point: Biden has a history of making the wrong decision at key moments, Sanders has argued, including his vote to authorize war with Iraq. On the front of eligibility, Sanders has argued that his higher fundraising numbers, increasing crowd size and leadership in some polls show he can excite the party and win.

While it was not clear how Sanders would approach the fin with Warren in the debate, his campaign advisors have pointed out in recent days that they are much more interested in establishing a contrast with Biden, particularly pressing on his previous comments on cutting Social Security and build on an argument promoted by a substitute for Sanders over the weekend that Biden has an irregular track record in supporting African Americans.

Warren plans to present herself as a candidate for unity that would be acceptable to both the liberal and established wings of the Democratic Party. The leak of Sanders’ alleged comments could also influence his new emphasis on gender in recent weeks.

Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, hopes to stay above the fray and show that he can attract voters who left the party to support Trump.

A spokesman for the Buttigieg campaign declined to comment on the debate strategy, but the candidate has been making some key points of distinction between him and his fellow candidates in recent weeks, including the shooting of Biden’s vote in favor of the Iraq war.

Only six candidates will be in the debate stage, the smallest group so far to participate. It will also be the first debate with only white candidates, a lack of diversity that stood out on Monday when Senator Cory Booker (DN.J.), who is African-American, left the race citing as a reason his inability to qualify for the debate.

Four candidates, Sanders, Biden, Warren and Buttigieg, are grouped at the top of the polls that lead to the committees. However, in the absence of three weeks, the race remains fluid: 45 percent of Iowans residents said they could be persuaded to support a different candidate in a Des Moines Register / CNN survey last week.

“It is not unexpected that Iowans takes his time considering all the candidates. But when there are people who say they have reduced it to their four or three main options, we are in a new territory,” said Matt Paul, who was the state director from Clinton Iowa in 2016. “There will be great interest in this debate.”

The effort to persuade caused disputes between the candidates over the weekend. The Sanders team got entangled with the Biden team by Biden’s vote for the war in Iraq. Nina Turner, national co-president of the Sanders campaign, wrote an opinion article published Sunday in a South Carolina newspaper that Biden “has repeatedly betrayed black voters to side with Republican lawmakers and undermine our progress.”

But the fight between Sanders and Warren, who had previously criticized each other in passing, eclipsed that dispute.

Sanders said it was “sad that, three weeks before the Iowa caucus and one year after that private conversation, the staff that was not in the room lied about what happened.”

Warren informed Sanders at the meeting that he planned to run for president, according to one of the people with knowledge of the conversation.

The fight followed a weekend dispute over a Politico report that the Sanders campaign issued a script that painted Warren as an elitist for volunteers calling voters.

Warren said she was “disappointed” and warned of a repetition of what she called the “factionalism” that cost the White House Democrats in 2020.

Adam Green, an ally of Warren, said Warren plans to make a broader closing argument on the big issues of his campaign and focus the energizing nature of his campaign.

“Warren’s final argument is that he can better unite and energize all factions of Democrats, in addition to winning undecided voters in general,” Green said. “This debate has to do with the general vision and the possibility of choosing against Trump.”

Matt Viser, Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Chelsea Janes contributed to this report.

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