A growing rift between leading liberal presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders could have broader ramifications for the Democratic nominating contest — including elevating their moderate rivals, just three weeks away from the crucial Iowa caucuses.
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As Sanders and Warren supporters traded fresh barbs on social media, a wide coalition of 18 grassroots progressive groups, some backing Sanders and some backing Warren, joined together to call for a truce between the two senators and their allies.
“Historically, Democrats lose when progressives are divided,” Neil Sroka, communications director of Democracy for America, told FOX Business. “And that’s why it’s more important than ever that we don't allow those divisions to fester, and that progressives focus their energy on the corporate wing of the Democratic Party.”
Democracy for America, which signed the unity pledge, has not endorsed either candidate.
For days, the progressive senators have been feuding over what was said at a private meeting in Washington, D.C., a little over a year ago. Warren contends that Sanders told her a woman could not win the presidency; Sanders has vehemently denied the account.
Neither candidate has spoken publicly about the dispute. But in an extraordinary exchange caught on a CNN microphone at the end of Tuesday’s debate, Sanders and Warren both accused each other of calling the other a “liar.”
“I don’t think that either of them have been helped by the exchanges that have taken place over the last week,” Sroka said, pointing to the 2004 election, when he said progressive infighting led to John Kerry winning the Democratic nomination — and ultimately losing to President George W. Bush.
The tense exchange began when Warren walked over to Sanders and refused to shake his hand.
"I think you called me a liar on national TV," Warren is heard saying on the recording.
"What?" Sanders asked.
"I think you called me a liar on national TV," Warren said.
"You know, let's not do it right now. If you want to have that discussion, we'll have that discussion," Sanders said.
"Anytime,” she said.
"You called me a liar," he said, adding: "You told me — all right, let's not do it now."
The unraveling nonaggression pact between the liberal duo has raised concerns among progressive organizations that a moderate candidate like former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s currently in first, according to an aggregate of national polls by RealClearPolitics, or former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigeig could win the nomination.
“We are joining this effort out of a belief that it represents leaders in the progressive movement urging everyone from campaign staff to Twitter commenters to focus on defeating a corporate, establishment Democrat like Joe Biden,” the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which signed the truce, said in a statement.
The clash comes amid Sanders' surge in the polls — he's hovering around first place in Iowa, while Warren dropped to fourth — and on the heels of a massive fundraising push. In the final three months of 2019, Sanders reported an astonishing $34.5 million in fundraising, well beyond Warren's $21.2 million haul.