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Democrats spar on final debate stage before Iowa caucuses

Six candidates hit hard in Iowa for the final time before the first primary votes are cast, meanwhile President Trump counter-programmed with a rally in Wisconsin.

WASHINGTON — Democrats held a contentious debate that came amid a sudden rift between two front runners and longtime progressive allies. It was the last Democratic debate before primary voting begins. Iowa will hold its kickoff caucuses in less than three weeks.

President Trump went into his plan to counter-program Tuesday night's debate by holding a rally in the nearby battleground state of Wisconsin.Winning back Wisconsin is a key part of the Democrats strategy in 2020. It's one of the reasons the party chose Milwaukee to host its national convention in July. Trump won the state by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016.

During Trump's rally Tuesday in Wisconsin the president distorted his record on the economy and fell back on an old false claim about making Mexico pay for his border wall, as the Associated Press reported

The six candidates on the Democratic debate stage Tuesday night looked for ways to break out of the crowded pack at the top with just weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses. Since it will be the smallest debate field of this election, the dynamic offered candidates more opportunities to criticize each other’s proposals as well as tout their own. It was their final case to a national audience before the first votes of the primaries are cast. 

Credit: AP
Democratic presidential candidates stand on stage, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, at Democratic presidential primary debate in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

WATCH LIVE: Democrats face off in last debate before Iowa votes

With Sen. Cory Booker's decision to drop out of the 2020 race Monday, there weren't any black faces on the Democratic debate stage Tuesday night in Iowa. 

Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, former Vice President Joe Biden, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and billionaire Tom Steyer will all appear at the debate. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who has appeared in every debate so far, missed the qualification deadline for this debate.

Polls in the past week show a virtual four-way tie in Iowa between Biden, Buttigieg, Sanders and Warren at the top of the heap. The Iowa caucuses will be held Monday, Feb. 3. The results of that vote will determine which remaining candidates have momentum into the next contest in New Hampshire.

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In addition to tackling differences in policy between the six candidates, the debate comes on the heels of Warren confirming a media report Monday in which Sanders allegedly told her in 2018 he didn't think a woman could beat President Donald Trump. Sanders denied making the comment, calling it "ludicrous."

In a statement, Warren said she met with Sanders to discuss the 2020 election and, “among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate. I thought a woman could win; he disagreed.” Warren also said she did not want to discuss the meeting further because she and Sanders “have far more in common than our differences on punditry" and that she believed the two would continue to work together to defeat Trump.

Before Warren confirmed the details of the report, which was based on accounts from anonymous sources, Sanders responded saying, "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 adviser Jeff Weaver also suggested Sanders' comments to Warren may have been misinterpreted.

"I think there was a discussion about Trump, misogyny, sexism and politics and the difficulty of running in the era of Trump for women, the special challenges that women face in the era of Trump. But those conversations can sometimes get misconstrued," Weaver told CNN.

The rift between the two progressive candidates in the Democratic field potentially opens a door for moderates like Biden and Buttigieg.

As the Associated Press reports, President Trump has increased his criticisms of the field of his Democratic rivals. With his first term tarnished after the House's impeachment, the president's reelection bid is evermore vital to his legacy.