DES MOINES, Iowa — Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday called the men in the Democratic presidential field losers and said the party needs to turn to a woman to go up against President Trump this year. She also said Sen. Bernard Sanders, one of her opponents, privately told her in 2018 that a woman couldn’t win.
Mr. Sanders flatly denied the charge, saying he is on record 30 years ago saying a woman could win the White House, and he was even prepared to defer to Ms. Warren if she decided to run in 2016 as many liberals sought.
“Look at the men on this stage. Collectively, they have lost 10 elections,” she said. “The only people on this stage who have won every election they’ve been in are the women.” She was referring to herself and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Ms. Warren added that she is the only one to unseat a sitting Republican in the past 30 years.
The rift between Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders was one of the major flashpoints as a slimmed-down field of six candidates tried to win over voters tuning in to the race ahead of Iowa’s caucuses early next month.
The two candidates buried their feud for most of the debate, teaming up to bash former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, whom they accused of bungling the biggest foreign policy decision of the century by backing the war in Iraq in 2002.
Mr. Biden gave them more ammunition when he said he would still leave troops — particularly Special Forces — in the Middle East.
“We need to get our combat troops out,” said Ms. Warren. “We should stop asking our military to solve problems that cannot be solved militarily.”
“The American people are sick and tired of endless wars,” Mr. Sanders added.
Mr. Biden, whose foreign policy has long put him at odds with his party’s left wing, insisted he is not the drums-of-war guy they accused him of.
He again called his 2002 vote to authorize the Iraq War “a mistake” but said he was fooled by President George W. Bush, whom he expected to go through more diplomacy before using the troops that Congress authorized.
Mr. Sanders countered: “I thought they were lying. I didn’t believe them for a moment.”
Mr. Biden said the taint from his mistake was erased by President Obama, who, despite that 2002 vote, picked him to be vice president.
“He turned to me and asked me to end that war,” he said.
For much of the debate, it was Mr. Sanders who found himself fending off the rest of the field.
He said he will vote against the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal pending in the Senate, splitting with Ms. Warren and Ms. Klobuchar, who said they will back it. So did Mr. Biden and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
The only candidate to back Mr. Sanders on trade was billionaire Tom Steyer, who said the USMCA doesn’t do enough about climate change.
Mr. Biden, meanwhile, questioned whether Mr. Sanders will ever see a trade deal he would support.
Mr. Sanders fired back by reminding voters that he opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement, and to normalize trade relations with China — a pair of deals that Mr. Biden backed and that Mr. Sanders blames for the loss of 4 million jobs.
The candidates were challenged on their vulnerabilities in a prospective election with Mr. Trump.
Mr. Steyer said his massive wealth won’t hold him back, saying voters will credit him for using his personal wealth for good.
Mr. Buttigieg said his lack of black support won’t hold him back, saying many black leaders who have gotten to know him end up backing him.
Ms. Klobuchar said she can inspire Democrats because she’s from the Midwest.
Ms. Warren was asked whether she would scare away swing voters. She said she can win them over because she’s able to find common ground with her brothers, two of whom she said are Republicans.
The debate was held under very different circumstances from the affair in December.
House Democrats are expected to vote Wednesday to transmit articles of impeachment against President Trump to the Senate, sparking a full trial of a president for only the third time in American history.
Ms. Klobuchar, casting aside impartiality as a juror, called the trial a test of whether Mr. Trump can act as a king.
“This is a patriotism check,” she said.
The same four candidates are also leading the pack in New Hampshire, where the primary is scheduled for Feb. 11.
Voters in Iowa are still mulling their options, with many likely caucusgoers just beginning to tune in and show up at candidates’ events.
A Monmouth University poll found that 43% of voters are firmly decided on their candidate, while the rest of the respondents said they are open to supporting a different candidate.
Not on the stage Tuesday was former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a billionaire who could have qualified based on polling, but who is refusing to accept campaign contributions from the public, meaning he couldn’t meet the financial support criterion the Democratic National Committee set. He said he is open to pouring up to $1 billion of his own money into the race to oust the president.
Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur who has been one of the more intriguing figures in the race, had the donors but missed the cut because his poll numbers weren’t high enough.
Three other candidates who qualified for earlier debates also have dropped out of the race: former Obama administration official Julian Castro, motivational speaker Marianne Williamson and Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey. Their departures further solidified the dominance of white men in the race.
“The Democratic Party, which represents the true rainbow coalitions of America, has got to do a better job of getting more candidates running at all levels — supporting a system that doesn’t benefit big money but really big values. What are the values of our party?” Mr. Booker, who is black, said Tuesday on CBS.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez countered that Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, who also is black, would have qualified for Tuesday’s debate had she not dropped out of the race.
He said everyone had the same chance to make the stage and the heavy presence of white men is just how it played out.
“We can’t change the rules midstream because there’s a candidate that I wish were on but didn’t make the debate stage,” he said.
⦁ Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.