Warren and Sanders spar over alleged claims that Sanders said a woman can't win

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (R) debate as former Vice President Joe Biden listens during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. ( Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images )

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren declined an opportunity to continue their recent campaign trail feud during Tuesday night's debate, but Warren still took on her progressive opponent.

Sanders again denied that he told Warren in a private 2018 meeting that a woman couldn't win the presidency. He called it "incomprehensible" that he would believe such a thing and said he didn't want to "waste a whole lot of time" on the issue "because this is what Donald Trump ... wants." He also committed to doing "everything in my power" to making sure the eventual nominee wins.

Warren has said Sanders did in fact tell her a woman can't win, and on the debate stage, she took on the issue of whether a woman can win head-on. Warren told the crowd that the male candidates on the stage collectively lost 10 races while she and Sen. Amy Klobuchar were "the only people on this stage who have won every single election that they've been in."

She also argued that female candidates have outperformed men, noting that female candidates and voters were pivotal in taking back the House and flipping statehouses during the last midterms.

Warren also said she's the only candidate on stage who defeated an incumbent Republican candidate any time in the last 30 years. The Vermont senator disputed that, arguing that he defeated incumbent Republican Peter Smith in a 1990 congressional race. 

Warren then began counting quietly with her finger, asking, "Wasn't it 30 years ago?"

Sanders noted his win again and then said the dispute isn't a pressing concern.

Warren also pivoted to an implicit contrast with Sanders on electability, arguing that "the real danger" for Democrats "is picking a candidate who can't pull our party together."

Longtime allies Warren and Sanders are icons in the party's left wing. Former Vice President Joe Biden, considered the centrist in the race, has maintained his place as an establishment favorite thanks to relationships with Democratic officials that have spanned decades.

Pete Buttigieg, a virtual unknown a year ago, is trying to carve his own path as a 37-year-old openly gay military veteran from the Midwest.