The rivalry between Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBipartisan senators to hold hearing on 'toxic conservatorships' amid Britney Spears controversy Senate advances Biden consumer bureau pick after panel logjam White House faces increased cries from allies on Haitian migrants MORE and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegDOJ sues to block JetBlue-American Airlines partnership On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Blumenthal calls on Buttigieg to investigate American Airlines-JetBlue partnership MORE is intensifying as the two candidates vie for preeminence in the first Democratic presidential nominating contests.
Simmering tensions between the two burst out into the open this month amid a back-and-forth over transparency; he demanded that she release her tax returns from her time as a legal consultant, while she pressed him to open his private fundraisers to the press and disclose his past clients during his tenure at the global consultancy McKinsey & Company.
The spat underscores the intense rivalry that has emerged between the two candidates in early voting states, but particularly in Iowa, which both Buttigieg and Warren see as a crucial way station in their trek to the Democratic presidential nomination.
Warren edged out former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks GOP Rep. Cawthorn likens vaccine mandates to 'modern-day segregation' MORE for the top spot in Iowa in the state’s benchmark Des Moines Register–CNN poll in September and held that position in a handful of surveys in October. But Buttigieg has now surpassed Warren in some polls in Iowa and New Hampshire — the first two states to vote in the presidential nominating contest — in recent weeks, intensifying his competition with the Massachusetts senator.
In Iowa especially, Warren and Buttigieg are scrambling for the support of caucusgoers who have yet to settle on a particular candidate.
Sean Bagniewski, the chairman of the Polk County Democratic Party, said that while other top-tier candidates like Biden and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFranken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Pelosi says House members would not vote on spending bill top line higher than Senate's Groups push lawmakers to use defense bill to end support for Saudis in Yemen civil war MORE (I-Vt.) have largely consolidated their voter bases, Warren and Buttigieg are looking to undecided voters to propel them across the finish line on caucus night.
“The Bernie folks — I don’t know that Elizabeth Warren can compel them to come over to her side. And people that are more centrists and supporting Joe Biden can’t really be talked into supporting Pete either,” Bagniewski said.
“[Warren and Buttigieg] don’t necessarily share the same voters, but I think they both feel like they have really good organizations in the state, which they do, and they both feel like they have a good shot at finishing first here, which they do,” he added. “They’re both making big plays for undecided voters.”
An Emerson College survey of Iowa released on Wednesday showed Buttigieg in third place with 18 percent support — a 2-point increase from a similar poll in October — while Warren’s support dropped 11 points to 12 percent, putting her in fourth.
Likewise, a WBUR poll of likely Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire also released on Wednesday showed Buttigieg in the No. 1 spot with 18 percent support. Warren finished in fourth place with 12 percent.
“Clearly when Mayor Pete started winning Iowa and New Hampshire polls, you could tell there was an immediate kind of shift towards guns being set at him,” said Sean Shaw, the 2018 Democratic nominee for Florida attorney general and a surrogate for Buttigieg.
“If [Warren] sees her path as going through Mayor Pete then she’s going to try to go through Mayor Pete and do what she needs to do to get there,” Shaw added. “That’s primary politics.”
The tensions between Warren and Buttigieg on the campaign trail aren’t new but hinged until recently on policy disputes and ideological differences. Buttigieg, for instance, led critics earlier in the fall in questioning Warren’s “Medicare for All” proposal and the viability of her progressive agenda in a potential general election match-up against President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE.
Warren, in turn, has railed against the notion of pursuing incremental change in Washington instead of “big ideas,” comments seen by many as an implicit criticism of Buttigieg and his center-left brand of politics.
But the criticism has veered into new — and more explicit — territory in recent weeks as Buttigieg and Warren have traded barbs over transparency and their past work in the private sector.
At a Democratic Party fundraiser in Boston last week, Warren called Buttigieg out by name, saying that he should disclose his campaign bundlers — donors who raise large sums of money for candidates — and open up his private fundraising events to the press. She also called on Buttigieg to release a list of clients from his time at McKinsey.
“I think that voters want to know about possible conflicts of interest,” she said.
In response to Warren’s remarks, Buttigieg’s campaign criticized the Massachusetts senator for withholding her tax returns from her time as a legal consultant for private and corporate clients more than a decade ago.
Both candidates relented to the pressure this week. Warren released a detailed list of the compensation she received from her legal work, while Buttigieg’s campaign announced on Monday that he would update his list of campaign bundlers and allow members of the press to attend his fundraisers.
Buttigieg also released a timeline on Wednesday detailing his projects and clients during his three-year tenure at McKinsey, a list that included companies like the insurance provider Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and electronics retailer Best Buy, as well as nonprofit organizations and government agencies like the U.S. Postal Service.
The list prompted immediate criticism from progressive allies of Warren, who pointed to Buttigieg’s former clientele as evidence of his ties to corporate America and the private insurance industry. Adam Green, the co-founder of the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said the disclosure shows that Buttigieg “has baggage that threatens our ability to defeat Trump in 2020.”
“With Pete’s admission that he worked to cut the ‘overhead’ of up to 1,000 jobs at Michigan Blue Cross Blue Shield, the Trump TV ad writes itself,” Green said in a statement on Tuesday night.
It remains to be seen if either candidate takes serious damage in the clash. But it could carry benefits for the other top-tier candidates in the primary race.
Recent polling shows that Warren’s supporters see Sanders as their second choice for the nomination, while Buttigieg’s backers see Biden as the next best candidate. That means Sanders or Biden could gain if Buttigieg or Warren were to lose support.
There are few signs that the spat between Warren and Buttigieg is abating. In an interview on MSNBC on Tuesday night after disclosing his former clients, Buttigieg took what appeared to be a thinly veiled shot at Warren, this time bringing his criticism back to a more familiar issue: her support for a Medicare for All proposal that would eliminate private health insurance.
Asked whether his work with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan played a role in the insurance provider’s decision in 2009 to lay off to lay off up to 1,000 employees, Buttigieg pivoted.
“I doubt it,” Buttigieg said, adding that he stopped working with Blue Cross Blue Shield in 2007. “What I do know is that there are some voices in the Democratic primary right now who are calling for a policy that would eliminate the job of every single American working at every single insurance company in the country.”