Democratic candidates for president are increasingly throwing barbs and exchanging swipes with one another ahead of their first debate in just three weeks. 

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandSanders endorses Lipinski’s progressive primary challenger Sanders endorses Lipinski’s progressive primary challenger Gillibrand defends calling for Franken’s resignation: ‘I would stand by those women again’ MORE (N.Y.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegTillis trails Democratic challenger by 7 points in North Carolina poll Tillis trails Democratic challenger by 7 points in North Carolina poll Gillibrand defends calling for Franken’s resignation: ‘I would stand by those women again’ MORE took aim at one another over former Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenGillibrand defends calling for Franken’s resignation: ‘I would stand by those women again’ Gillibrand defends calling for Franken’s resignation: ‘I would stand by those women again’ The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump savors British teas, tiaras while armed with Twitter MORE’s (D-Minn.) resignation, with Buttigieg implicitly criticizing Gillibrand by saying he wouldn’t have pressured Franken to resign over sexual misconduct allegations based on what was known at the time.

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Gillibrand was the first senator to call for Franken’s resignation last year, and she’s been criticized by some Democrats for doing so. 

“For my part, I chose to stand by eight women,” Gillibrand told SiriusXM host Zerlina Maxwell on “Signal Boost” Tuesday, a day after Buttigieg’s initial comments at an MSNBC town hall. “I would stand by those women again. I value women, so my position is really clear.”

Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHouse panel sets Medicare for all hearing for next week House panel sets Medicare for all hearing for next week Sanders endorses Lipinski’s progressive primary challenger MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOvernight Energy: Biden unveils trillion climate plan | Plan included passages lifted from green groups | Warren offers trillion green manufacturing plan | Ocasio-Cortez praises Inslee on climate Overnight Energy: Biden unveils trillion climate plan | Plan included passages lifted from green groups | Warren offers trillion green manufacturing plan | Ocasio-Cortez praises Inslee on climate Ocasio-Cortez calls Jay Inslee’s climate plan the ‘gold standard’ MORE (D-Mass.) have taken swipes at former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenOvernight Energy: Biden unveils trillion climate plan | Plan included passages lifted from green groups | Warren offers trillion green manufacturing plan | Ocasio-Cortez praises Inslee on climate Overnight Energy: Biden unveils trillion climate plan | Plan included passages lifted from green groups | Warren offers trillion green manufacturing plan | Ocasio-Cortez praises Inslee on climate Ocasio-Cortez calls Jay Inslee’s climate plan the ‘gold standard’ MORE over his willingness to attend high-dollar fundraisers with Wall Street supporters. Warren also took a shot at Biden over his willingness to work with Republicans. 

Biden is the front-runner in the race, and Sanders and Warren are both fighting to catch him. The two senators are also rivals themselves as they battle to be the pick for progressive Democrats.

Over the weekend at the California Democratic Convention, several Democratic candidates sparred over socialism. 

After former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn Wright HickenlooperThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump warns GOP not to challenge him on tariffs The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump warns GOP not to challenge him on tariffs Blame ultra-liberal policies for California’s free fall MORE said that “socialism is not the answer” if the party wants to defeat President TrumpDonald John TrumpYouTube declines to take action against commentator accused of racist, homophobic harassment YouTube declines to take action against commentator accused of racist, homophobic harassment US officials respond to China blaming Trump admin for derailing trade negotiations MORE, Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeSanders endorses Lipinski’s progressive primary challenger Sanders endorses Lipinski’s progressive primary challenger Overnight Energy: Biden unveils trillion climate plan | Plan included passages lifted from green groups | Warren offers trillion green manufacturing plan | Ocasio-Cortez praises Inslee on climate MORE fired back.

“I’m a governor who doesn’t think we should be ashamed of our progressive values,” he said to whoops and cheers from a liberal audience. 

The battles are hardly surprising in a 24-candidate race that is just beginning to take shape. 

But the latest sparring mostly reflects two dynamics in the emerging primary fight.

One is the need for candidates such as Sanders and Warren to take Biden down a peg. 

New polls released this week showed Biden with a double-digit national lead, underscoring his status as the front-runner. 

As a result, candidates are going to be under pressure to step up their attacks on Biden to try to bring him back to the pack.

Separately, more than half the candidates are struggling to get out of the gate. Those Democrats need to make headlines to find any traction at all, and battling with other candidates is one way to do it.

Hickenlooper’s remarks about socialism might not have gone over well with many progressive voters, but they won him attention and might win him some votes down the road. 

Gillibrand also gained some headlines when she was asked about Buttigieg’s remarks.

“Differentiation in a crowded field is tough, so expect sharper elbows to break clustering in the polls,” said Democratic strategist Basil Smikle.

The barbs may be just a preview of what to expect in Miami on June 26 and 27, when 20 Democrats will take part in the debates over two days. 

Still, the sharp words can also come with some downsides. 

The bitter primary battle between Sanders and 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonExclusive: Top Trump super PACs join forces on voter mobilization effort Exclusive: Top Trump super PACs join forces on voter mobilization effort Report: Christopher Steele agrees to be questioned by US officials over his relationship with FBI MORE left bruised feelings and some Sanders supporters at home on Election Day.

“I thought we learned our lesson the last time,” one strategist said. “These sorts of things don’t evaporate when the general election begins. The wounds actually deepen.” 

The strategist questioned whether the headlines were worth it, saying it would be surprising if the small tiffs were making anyone pay attention beyond the immediate news cycle. “It’s doing more harm than good,” the strategist said. 

But Democratic strategist Eddie Vale said the sharp exchanges are “totally normal and expected” and expects the party to come together in the end to defeat Trump.

“Within our party there are some big and small differences on policies as well as overall strategy of how to beat Trump,” Vale said. “And that’s normal and healthy to have that debate. These fights will also strengthen the candidates and show who can give and take a punch. If you can’t deal with some criticism in a Democratic primary, you certainly aren’t ready to go toe-to-toe with Trump.”

The GOP primary fight in 2016 was one of the nastiest on record. At one point, Trump accused Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump, GOP edge closer to confrontation on tariffs Trump, GOP edge closer to confrontation on tariffs Trump floats new emergency declaration to impose Mexico tariffs MORE’s (R-Texas) father of being involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Cruz called Trump a “pathological liar” and a “moron.” 

“The man cannot tell the truth, but he combines it with being a narcissist. A narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen,” Cruz said after Trump’s insinuations about his father. 

In the end, Republicans for the most part rallied around Trump. 

“No one thought that Trump would win the primary, but he made it through by being the strongest candidate in the field,” Vale said.  “And the same will happen on our side this time.”

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