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story.lead_photo.caption Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, left, watches as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., answers a question Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Elizabeth Warren stood behind her charge that Bernie Sanders said a woman could not defeat Donald Trump, making an energetic case for a female nominee in a Tuesday night Democratic debate that raised gender as a core issue in the sprint to the Iowa caucuses.

"Look at the men on this stage. Collectively, they have lost 10 elections," Warren exclaimed, noting she and Sen. Amy Klobuchar had won every election they ever ran for.

Sanders firmly denied Warren's accusation and said it was "incomprehensible" to believe he would suggest a woman couldn't become the president.

"Of course a woman can win," he said. "I don't know that that's the major issue of the day."

Just six candidates gathered in Des Moines, each eager to seize a dose of final-days momentum on national television before Iowa's Feb. 3 caucuses. The sudden "he-said, she-said" dispute over gender involving two longtime allies, Sanders and Warren, loomed over the event, though it was not a focus in the debate's earliest moments.

Specifically, Warren charged publicly on the eve of the debate that Sanders told her during a private 2018 meeting he didn't think a woman could defeat Trump, a claim tinged with sexism that Sanders vigorously denied. Amid an immediate uproar on the left, there were signs both candidates wanted to deescalate the situation.

The feuding on other topics, including war and foreign policy expanded to include nearly every candidate on stage by night's end.

Sanders has recently stepped up his attacks on former Vice President Joe Biden over Biden's past support of the Iraq War, broad free-trade agreements and entitlement reform, among other issues. Minnesota Sen. Klobuchar, who has had several strong debates, looked for opportunities as she remained mired in the middle of the pack in polling. Billionaire Tom Steyer faced criticism he's trying to buy his way to the White House.

And with two surveys showing Pete Buttigieg losing support in Iowa, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, needed a breakout moment to regain strength before the caucuses.

Trump, campaigning in neighboring Wisconsin just as Democrats took the debate stage, tried to encourage the feud between Sanders and Warren from afar.

"She said that Bernie stated strongly that a woman can't win. I don't believe that Bernie said that, I really don't. It's not the kind of thing Bernie would say," Trump said.

Earlier in the night, the candidates sparred over Iraq, war and foreign policy, although they were largely united against Trump's leadership on such issues.

Sanders drew a sharp contrast with Biden by noting Sanders aggressively fought against a 2002 measure to authorize military action against Iraq.

Sanders called the Iraq invasion "the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of this country."

"I did everything I could to prevent that war," Sanders said. "Joe saw it differently."

Biden acknowledged his 2002 vote to authorize military action was "a mistake," but highlighted his role in the Obama administration helping to draw down the U.S. military presence in the region.

Several candidates condemned Trump's recent move to kill Iran's top general and his decision to keep U.S. troops in the region.

"We have to get combat troops out," declared Warren, who also called for reducing the military budget.

Others, including Buttigieg, Biden and Klobuchar, said they favored maintaining a small military presence in the Middle East.

"I bring a different perspective," said Buttigeg, who was a military intelligence officer in Afghanistan. "We can continue to remain engaged without having an endless commitment to ground troops."

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