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Elizabeth Warren-Bernie Sanders Dispute Reverberates On Campaign Trail

DES MOINES, Iowa ― Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said they’re ready to move beyond last week’s controversy about what was said at a 2018 meeting, but it’s still a live issue for many of their supporters.

“I am here to tell you that as a woman working in construction and reporting on sports, I believe you 100%,” Tanya Keith, 48, told Warren at a Planned Parenthood house party here on Saturday. “Because I looked at you and I looked at him and I’m like, ‘He did that.’”

“I know that Bernie Sanders said those things to you, because I have seen your body language, and I’ve seen his body language,” added Keith, who was backing Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and is now undecided. “And I know what men say to us in rooms and then what they say to us in person to gaslight us, and I just want you to know that I believe you 100%.”

CNN reported last week that Sanders told Warren in a 2018 private meeting that he didn’t believe a woman could defeat President Donald Trump in 2020. Warren later confirmed the report, saying, “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 said she wanted to move on, but the issue came up again at the debate. Sanders denied that he had ever said such a thing. And then afterward, cameras caught Warren confronting Sanders, accusing him of calling her a liar on national television. 

At the Planned Parenthood event on Saturday, Keith said she had “a little PTSD” from the 2016 primary. She was a Hillary Clinton supporter, and watched how vicious it became within the Democratic Party. She said she didn’t “want to see Bernie Sanders’ people doing to your supporters what they did to us.” She asked Warren “what your plans are for shutting that down” and “winning his supporters over” if she becomes the nominee. 

Warren refused to elaborate on the meeting or criticize Sanders, saying that they had been “friends for a long time.” 

“We fight for the same issues. We’ve been allies in these fights long before I ever got into politics. I knew Bernie and worked with him on a whole lot of issues that affect working people, families, poor people around this country,” she said. “That’s all I want to say about that topic. Because what I truly believe is, we’re going to have to pull together.”

Her campaign said it was the first time a voter had asked her about it on the campaign trail. Watch the exchange here, captured by HuffPost: 

“Men will say one thing to you in a closed room and then say something else when you’re in public. I wish Bernie would just own up to it,” Keith told HuffPost afterward. She said with Booker out of the race, she’s considering supporting Warren, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) or billionaire investor and activist Tom Steyer. 

Both Warren and Sanders have repeatedly declined to discuss their disagreement with reporters since the debate. 

The controversy followed Sanders to New Hampshire this weekend as well. Politico reported that some female politicians and activists were upset that he would be speaking at the women’s march in Portsmouth after the issue with Warren.

“I was disturbed enough that when the senator spoke, I took a break from the rally and went elsewhere,” said former state Sen. Iris Estabrook, who is backing Klobuchar in the primary.

But Sanders’ supporters were also paying attention to the episode. Alex Andrade, 29, is a volunteer for the campaign and was at a soccer tournament/caucus training Saturday night in Des Moines. He said he had really admired Warren and that she was his second choice ― but that he had changed his mind after the past week. 

“Ever since everything happened, I feel like she’s dividing us,” he said. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is now his second choice. 

Vanessa Marcano-Kelly, 34, said she was “disappointed.”  

Progressives in the party have been urging both sides to move on, worried that fueling attention and bad feelings will ultimately hurt both of them ― potentially allowing a more moderate candidate to take advantage of the situation. 

But it’s also started a wider discussion about something that’s been lingering throughout the primary: the issue of a female candidate running against Trump. Former Vice President Joe Biden made similar, but more direct, comments to what Sanders allegedly said, but they received far less attention. 

A HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted in March found that 3 in 10 Democratic voters think that most of the electorate would be less likely to vote for a female candidate because of her gender, compared to just 4% who think a male candidate would face a similar disadvantage. Similarly, 28% think a nonwhite candidate would face more difficulty with voters. 

Correction: This piece originally misstated the state Klobuchar represents.

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