Biden, who after downplaying expectations in Iowa is now signaling he believes the state’s caucuses are in play for his campaign, could end up benefiting if voters in the state are turned off by the fight between his two progressive rivals.
Allies of Biden say that while Sanders has been ascending in the polls, the fight could bring down his popularity — particularly with women who see his fight with Warren as petty and sexist.
They also think it could provide a nice contrast for Biden.
“This proves that once again, even on our side, he’s above all the pettiness that we see in politics today,” said one longtime ally who has spoken to Biden in recent days. “And he doesn’t have to do a thing. He just needs to kick back and let them prove his point.”
After months of refusing to attack one another on the campaign trail, tensions between Warren and Sanders flared this week after CNN revealed that Warren said Sanders told her in a private 2018 meeting that a woman could not be elected to the White House.
The fight grew bitter on Tuesday night following the latest Democratic debate when Warren accused Sanders of calling her “a liar on national TV.” Warren was referring to a moment during the debate in which Sanders denied that he ever said a woman couldn’t be elected president.
Television cameras caught the viral moment between Warren and Sanders, with billionaire candidate Tom Steyer an awkward third party. On Wednesday night, audio was released, allowing the nation to hear both candidates.
Democratic strategist Basil Smikle, who has not sided with any campaign, said the barbs were good news for Biden — especially coming from more than a fortnight from the caucuses.
“A tussle between Warren and Sanders has the potential to make both of them unlikeable while helping Biden, who has been conspicuously even-keeled and gaffe-free in the last few weeks,” said Smikle, who served as the executive director of the New York state Democratic Party and is a former aide to Hillary Clinton.
Aides and allies to Warren and Sanders say the fight between the two progressive senators once linked in arms is a negative. Progressive groups have sought to get the two to call off their fight for fear it will hurt both candidates. Their allies hope that if one candidate surges ahead of the other, they can count on the other candidate’s support to win the nomination.
Now they are worried the fight will linger, with supporters in each camp harboring ill will.
“It’s really unhelpful,” one Sanders ally acknowledged. “I never thought this would happen especially so close to Iowa.”
“They need each other,” the ally said. “That’s the only way one of them wins.”
On Thursday, several progressive organizations including Our Revolution and Democracy for America issued a joint unity statement to express their concern about ceding the nomination to an establishment Democrat like Biden.
“Our best chance of defeating Trump does not lie with an establishment or corporate Democrat,” the statement read. “Sanders and Warren, as well as their campaigns and supporters, will need to find ways to cooperate.”
The skirmish comes at a moment when the race in Iowa and nationally appears to be anybody’s game.
A CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll out last week showed Sanders in the lead in Iowa with 20 percent while Warren came in at 17 percent. Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., received 16 percent of support among potential caucusgoers while Biden received 15 percent.
At the same time, Biden leads in a New Hampshire poll out this week from Franklin Pierce University/The Boston Herald/NBC 10. The former vice president received 26 percent while Sanders came in second with 22 percent and Warren receiving 18 percent.
Some Biden supporters downplay the Warren-Sanders friction, arguing it is unlikely to move voters.
“Honestly I don’t think it matters,” said one former Biden aide. “I mean, it makes Biden look like a grown-up but I don’t think it moves voters to him, especially from those two camps.”
Grant Reeher, director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute and a professor of political science at Syracuse University, agreed with that sentiment.
“I don’t think the conflict between Warren and Sanders will help Biden, at least of the face of it,” Reeher said. “The two of them are struggling for the same general bloc of Democratic voters, and Biden is offering an alternative to both of them — so it’s not like someone might abandon Sanders because of this conflict and then go to Biden.”
But one beneficiary, Reeher said, could be Buttigieg “because of the identity politics.”
“Sanders and Warren’s supporters are more on the left and part of that left includes folks who are younger, and also folks who are more identity-based than class-based,” he said. “And even though Buttigieg is running a more moderate campaign on the issues, he’s got youth and identity on his side, compared with Biden.”
Reeher added that Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) who also shares the more moderate lane with Biden and Buttigieg could also be a recipient of Warren supporters “because of the gender issue.”
But the Biden ally said the former vice president will reap the benefits of the fight.
“Let’s put it this way. I can’t see how this is a net positive for either of them,” the ally said.