Those clamoring for a full-blown duel between Sens. Bernard Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 presidential primaries will be sorely disappointed, say Democratic operatives who are coaching the two far-left titans to keep circling each other and pulling their punches.
The reasoning behind the hands-off strategy is simple: Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren have little hope of peeling off each other’s supporters and any attack would only infuriate the other’s die-hard fans.
Democratic voters are not necessarily happy with this left-wing war of attrition.
“A lot of people want to see those two debate. Many are excited to see if one of them will strike first blood,” said Laura Hubka, chair of the Democratic Party in Howard County, Iowa.
She said she doubted, however, that it would happen next week in the Democratic presidential debate in Houston.
In Houston, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren likely will be in the same spot, though this time they will be able to take shots at former Vice President Joseph R. Biden. The less radical Mr. Biden, who is the front-runner in the race, was on stage with a different group in the two-day debates among 20 candidates in Detroit. The format was the same in June in Miami: two nights of debates with 10 candidates each.
The Democratic National Committee’s tougher rules to get on stage in the one-night debate next week cut the number of participants to 10. Mr. Biden, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren will be on the same stage together for the first time.
The three are way out in front of the crowded Democratic field.
The Real Clear Politics average of recent national polls showed Mr. Biden with a commanding lead of 30.4%. Behind him, Mr. Sanders took 17.1% and Ms. Warren had 16.3%. The rest of the candidates were in single digits.
Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren are running on nearly identical platforms that include “Medicare for All” government-run health care, massive spending on green energy projects, free tuition at public colleges and canceling student debt.
Their supporters, however, are not cut from the same cloth.
It is a big part of the reason why neither side fears that Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren are splitting the far-left vote and clearing a path to the nomination for Mr. Biden, said Democratic strategist Zach Friend.
Mr. Sanders retained an army of fiercely loyal supporters from his 2016 run who have helped him cling to the second-place position in polls, though he has been vying with Ms. Warren for that spot in recent weeks.
Ms. Warren has assembled a broader coalition on the left that includes millennials, women and former Hillary Clinton supporters who hold a grudge against Mr. Sanders for the dogged perseverance of his 2016 campaign.
Ms. Warren’s broader coalition, as well as her formidable ground game in Iowa and New Hampshire, has made her the favorite in conventional Washington wisdom to emerge as the far-left alternative to Mr. Biden.
The antagonism each side has for the other effectively keeps Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren out of the other’s path to the nomination. To get in front, they will need to pick up supporters from other candidates.
There is a reason Mr. Sanders‘ supporters are nicknamed “Bernie bros,” Mr. Barker said.
“About a third to half of his supporters say they would never support Warren,” he said.
“If she did win out, we would view that as another establishment plot because the elite thought they could get what they wanted through her because they couldn’t get it through Bernie,” said Massachusetts neuroscientist Laurie Cestnick, who leads one the Our Revolution grassroots organizations dedicated to electing Mr. Sanders.
“Here’s the difference,” she said: “Warren has ideas. Bernie has an army.”
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