As 2020 Race Heats Up, Growing Worries Warren and Sanders Will Split Leftist Vote

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren shake hands before the start of the first night of the second 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren shake hands before the start of the first night of the second 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

At rallies at the Iowa State Fair last week, 2020 White House contenders Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders drew raucous crowds who chanted their names, waved signs and cheered at their every pledge.

Friends and liberal standard bearers of the Democratic Party, the two U.S. senators espouse many of the same causes: universal healthcare, taking on Wall Street, and raising the minimum wage.

Both candidates also have robust, well-funded campaigns and strong claims on this state, which holds the first Democratic presidential nominating contest in February.

That has some voters preoccupied with a question: is Iowa, or the presidential field in general, big enough for two popular progressives running head-to-head, or is there a risk that they could split the vote on the left, to the benefit of a centrist such as former vice president Joe Biden?

“Of course it concerns me,” said Sherma Mather, 50, who was visiting the fair from Richmond, Virginia, to support Warren.

Although the field is unsettled with the Iowa caucuses still nearly six months away, early opinion polls have consistently shown Biden in the lead with either Sanders, of Vermont, or Warren, of Massachusetts, in second place.

The fact that combining support for Sanders and Warren would eclipse Biden’s buttresses progressives’ arguments that the party is lurching leftward.

“They are a 1-2 punch and they are having a gravitational pull on the rest of the field,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), an advocacy group that supports Warren.

Two dozen Democrats are competing to secure their party’s nomination and battle Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 general election.

Sanders and Warren insist they are friends, not rivals. And they have so far stayed true to their pledge not to turn on each other for political gain, as moderate candidates warn that their reformist agenda will only ensure Trump’s re-election.

In Iowa, which has an outsized role in picking presidential nominees, there are signs that Warren could be chipping away at some of Sanders’ long-held support on the left.

A recent poll by Monmouth University of Iowa Democrats showed Warren in second place with 21% of the vote, trailing Biden by just seven percentage points. Sanders had dropped to 9% in the state, according to the poll.

Advisers to Sanders on Monday said the survey was flawed on the grounds his supporters were undersampled.

Nationally, the news is better for him, with Sanders and Warren basically neck-and-neck behind Biden. The most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll had Sanders in second place by a wide margin over Warren.

Sanders “can make a case for himself at this juncture how he is a unique candidate without denigrating others,” said his campaign manager Faiz Shakir.

Warren’s campaign declined to comment for this story.

Watching Sanders at the state fair on Sunday, Alexis Johnson, 33, of Des Moines, said beating Trump was her top priority as a voter and expressed little enthusiasm for Warren.

“It’s going to Bernie or Biden, I feel like,” she said. “And Bernie’s my man.”

Misty Cornelius, 38, of Des Moines, was sporting a Sanders tattoo on her chest at the fair, but she said Warren might be a better choice against Trump.

“Bernie has been stigmatized,” she said. “Warren is a fresh face.”


Despite sharing many of the same talking points, the two are noticeably different on the stump.

Drawing upon her working-class Oklahoma roots, Warren casts herself as a sort of prairie populist, while Sanders talks more in terms of leading a “movement.”

There is evidence too that the two do not chase the same kind of voters.

Patrick Murray, the polling director at Monmouth, said while “there is ideological overlap,” Warren’s recent surge has her pulling support away from virtually every other candidate, not just Sanders.

“Sanders has core support that will not desert him,” Murray said. That grassroots support led Sanders in 2016 to battle the eventual nominee Hillary Clinton to the very end of the primaries.

But Warren may have appeal to women, particularly college-educated women, that Sanders cannot match. “I am sick and tired of men running the world,” said Janet Caldwell, 66, of Washington, Iowa.

Sanders’ campaign in fact views Biden as their primary challenge, because both are courting the kind of working-class voters and union voters who gravitated to Trump in 2016.

Biden did little in Iowa to boost his status as a front-runner. He made several gaffes, including when he said in a speech that “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids” – a sensitive slip-up in an election where race is in the spotlight.

Also waiting in the wings in Iowa is U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California, who ranked third in the state in the Monmouth poll with 11% support.

After Iowa, Sanders and Warren will clash in New Hampshire, which holds the first Democratic primary later in February.

Many Warren voters, like Mather of Richmond, fear Sanders will not yield if his fellow senator continues to gain momentum.

Right now, the foremost concern of the two campaigns is not to siphon support off the other. Instead, they both want to convince large swaths of voters that a progressive Democrat can win the election against Trump, the PCCC’s Green said.

“Many ‘electability voters’ are parked in Joe Biden’s column,” Green said, “but that perception is changing.”

(Editing by Soyoung Kim and Sonya Hepinstall)

What do you think?


newest oldest most voted
Notify of
General Confusion

If Democrats get confused, again, and run another corporatist candidate against a populist, they will lose. That will be a very costly mistake.


Phil, I’ll respond to your reply with your own words. Based on what? Biden, Sanders, Warren are the three leading contenders, per current polls. That’s fact. What you consider “moderate” is still way Left for the voters the DNC hopes to win back. Biden has undercut himself by his “sucking up” to the Left, but might still win the nomination. Sanders is old like Gropin’ Joe and his ideas have been stolen by younger, Lefter candidates. That leaves Warren. A women and younger. By the “intersectional” point scoring practiced by your side that still leaves her ahead of Bernie, even… Read more »

Phyllis Softa

If there are 24 candidates, both the far left and the moderate left ARE split. The far left has more than Sanders and Warren to support.—Harris, Yang, de Blasio, Gillibrand, Castro would also be far left. And the moderate Democrats have more than Biden. Bennett, Bullock, Buttigieg, Delaney, Hickenlooper, Klobucher, O’Rourke, & Ryan are also moderates. Yes, if 2016 is an indicator, everyone should be concerned with Bernie staying in the race until the very end.


I’m convinced that ideas like “income inequality”, “wealth redistribution”, and “punish the rich” are all part of “economic jealousy”.

Sanders vs. Warren might split the vote, but so what? Warren is younger, has better-developed fantasies, and might even get her tribe to vote for her by promising enough free stuff.


Oooooo! This is so worrisome.





2020 Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the Presidential Gun Sense Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Scott Morgan

Democrat Buttigieg Unveils $80 Billion Plan to Bring Internet to All Rural Americans

Mitch McConnell

US Senate Leader: Any Violent Crackdown in Hong Kong Would Be ‘Completely Unacceptable’