With the Iowa caucuses just three weeks out, Bernie Sanders’s campaign is reportedly making efforts to chip away at the support of Elizabeth Warren, the other progressive candidate in the top four of the Democratic primary. According to talking points obtained by Politico, a campaign script urges national volunteers to tell voters that Warren is “bringing no new bases into the Democratic Party” and that “people who support her are highly educated, more affluent people who are going to show up and vote Democratic no matter what.”
“I like Elizabeth Warren,” the script begins, telling volunteers that part is “optional.” The guidelines also amplify other candidates perceived weaknesses and reflect key themes of the nomination process thus far — the populist, progressive tone of the race and its relative civility compared to the last primary cycle. Volunteers are encouraged to tell supporters of Pete Buttigieg that he has little support among black voters, and to inform young voters considering Joe Biden that “he doesn’t really have any volunteers” and that “no one is really excited about him.” According a source close to the campaign who spoke with Politico, “Bernie would lets us know when it was okay [to go after other candidates], so if that’s happening, he’s aware.”
The news of the jabs at other candidates comes days after the release of the gold-standard Des Moines Register/CNN Iowa poll showing the Vermont senator in the lead in the state with 20 percent — followed closely by Warren at 17 percent, Buttigieg at 16 percent, and Biden at 15 percent. As New York’s Ed Kilgore notes, the poll was a needed boost for the Warren campaign as well: “When you add in second preferences (important in Iowa because caucus supporters of candidates who fall short of a 15 percent viability threshold in any one location are then reallocated in a second vote), Warren has 33 percent, Sanders 32 percent, Buttigieg 31 percent, and Biden 27 percent.” And though Biden still commands a strong lead nationally, Sanders led the field in New Hampshire by three points in a CBS News/YouGov poll released last week. On Sunday, Sanders also picked up the endorsement of the 10,000-member SEA/SEIU Local 1984 in New Hampshire, as the chapter broke with the national organization, the Service Employees International Union, which has stayed neutral in the primary so far.
The Sanders talking points mark a major step in dismantling the “non-aggression pact” between the two progressive senators that has mostly been adhered to up to this point. Senior Democrats briefed on a December 2018 conversation between Sanders and Warren informed New York’s Gabriel Debenedetti that the senators would not go after each other on the campaign trail; though there have been some conflict among surrogates and supporters, the two have not critiqued each other during televised debates. That could change in the Tuesday debate, the final contest before the Iowa caucuses on February 3.
On Sunday, Warren responded to the Sanders talking points, telling reporters after an Iowa town hall that she was “disappointed to hear that Bernie is sending his volunteers out to trash me.” Warren added: “Bernie knows me, and has known me for a long time. He knows who I am, where I come from, what I have worked on and fought for, and the coalition and grassroots movement we’re trying to build.”
Though the president did not comment on the seemingly inevitable conflict within the Democratic primary, he did appear to notice Sanders’s recent polling successes, and offered his astute observation on Sunday: