If Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Elizabeth Warren are headed for a showdown, neither of them appears in a hurry to get there.
The two candidates have seemed to be on a collision course for much of the last few months: Mr. Biden as the Democratic front-runner and de facto leader of the party’s moderate wing, with a steady but hardly dominant lead in polls, and Ms. Warren as his rising challenger, slowly trimming his lead and perhaps surpassing Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont as the focal point of progressive energy in the race.
Despite some pre-debate chest-thumping by Mr. Biden’s camp, no great clash occurred in Thursday’s debate in Houston, the first time he and Ms. Warren have been onstage together during the primary.
It is almost inevitable that the race will grow more combative, and in the wake of the debate there were signs that some of the leading candidates were ready for conflict. Mr. Biden, who only challenged Ms. Warren in a single exchange on health care Thursday, delivered a veiled swipe at her policy-heavy campaign at a fund-raiser on Friday, saying that the country needed not just plans but also “someone who can execute a plan.” And Mr. Sanders sought to reignite his own clash with Mr. Biden, releasing a statement from his campaign manager that accused Mr. Biden of “echoing the deceptions and falsehoods of the health care industry.”
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Mr. Biden’s obvious unsteadiness at certain moments opened the way for other candidates to question his strength as a challenger to President Trump. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, appearing on CNN after the debate, noted that Mr. Biden “tends to go on sometimes,” and depicted him as out of touch.