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Six Democratic White House contenders will take part on Tuesday in a high-stakes Iowa debate, as polls show an unsettled nominating race with no clear favorite three weeks before Iowans kick off the party’s presidential nominating contest.

The seventh debate in the race to find a November challenger to President Donald Trump will be the last face-to-face encounter among the candidates before Iowa’s caucuses on Feb. 3, giving the contenders a final high-profile chance to make their case to voters.

It comes as opinion polls in recent days show an extremely tight race among four candidates – former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.

Joining the four in the debate are U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and billionaire activist Tom Steyer.

With surveys showing a virtual tie in Iowa and a largely undecided electorate, all candidates will face mounting pressure to make an impression, raising expectations for a contentious evening.

“I envision a much more aggressive debate than we have seen in the past, primarily because the stakes have gotten higher as the calendar has gotten shorter,” said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, who worked on John Edwards’ past White House campaign.

It is the first debate since a U.S. air strike killed an Iranian military commander, elevating foreign policy concerns and sparking clashes among Democrats, particularly Biden and Sanders, over the role of U.S. military interventions. That dispute is almost certain to rise again.

Sanders, a longtime antiwar advocate who voted in 2002 against authorizing the Iraq invasion, has repeatedly criticized Biden for his vote as a U.S. senator to authorize the war. Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has touted his security credentials.

The campaigns of Sanders and Warren, progressive allies and friends who have refrained from attacking each other, clashed over the weekend over a report that some Sanders campaign volunteers were instructed to describe Warren as a candidate of the elite when talking to voters.

In a further sign of growing tensions between the two, Warren pushed back on Monday against Sanders’ denial of a CNN report that he told her in a 2018 meeting he did not believe a woman could beat Trump in the 2020 election.

The Iowa debate also comes just days before the expected start of a Senate trial to determine if Trump should be removed from office, on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stemming from his request that Ukraine investigate Biden.

Three of the Democrats in the debate who serve in the Senate – Sanders, Warren and Klobuchar – will sit as jurors in the impeachment trial, giving them an elevated role in the process. Read more

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