South Carolina Democratic debate: Key moments from rowdy showdown
Bernie Sanders -- the current frontrunner who cruised to victory in Nevada Democratic debate last week -- bore the brunt of criticism from a number of his centrist rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Democratic presidential candidates launched withering attacks on frontrunner Bernie Sanders in a boisterous debate in South Carolina on Tuesday, warning that his nomination would be a "catastrophe" that would cost Democrats the White House and control of Congress.
South Carolina reprised a piece of political theatre similar to a performance six days earlier in Las Vegas. On stage in Nevada last week, the debate played out like dinner-theatre murder mystery. That time, New York Michael Bloomberg was the victim, while everyone else on the stage had a motive and the means to do him in.
This time, it was Bernie Sanders who got the rhetorical bludgeoning, the BBC reported. It was a chaotic, sprawling debate, with candidates often talking over each other and the moderators. Many times their answers went on beyond the allotted time.
The final debate before the critical South Carolina presidential primary on Saturday and next week’s Super Tuesday contests, witnessed chaotic and fiery exchanges.
Sanders -- the current frontrunner who cruised to victory in Nevada last week -- bore the brunt of criticism from a number of his centrist rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
In a debate that featured candidates repeatedly shouting over one another and ignoring their time limits, Sanders' opponents united in attacking the self-avowed democratic socialist as a risky choice to face Republican President Donald Trump in November.
Bernie Sanders’ bashing
Bloomberg said Russia was trying to boost Sanders in the Democratic primary because he would be a weaker candidate to take on Trump.
"Vladimir Putin thinks that Donald Trump should be President of the United States, and that's why Russia is helping you get elected, so you'll lose to him.
"Bernie will lose to Donald Trump, and Donald Trump and the House and the Senate and some of the statehouses will all go red," Bloomberg said, adding that would be "a catastrophe."
Buttigieg criticized Sanders for the shifting estimates on the costs of his proposals such as government-run healthcare and warned that the front-runner would bring about chaos.
"I can tell you exactly how it all adds up. It adds up to four more years of Donald Trump... If you think the last four years has been chaotic, divisive, toxic, exhausting, imagine spending the better part of 2020 with Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump."
Sanders, a senator from Vermont, has taken command of the Democratic race after his resounding win last week in Nevada, and the debate was the last chance for his opponents to try to stop his momentum.
Under incoming fire, Sanders largely held his ground. He defended healthcare as a human right and said his economic and social justice agenda is supported by the American people.
Underscoring the high stakes of Tuesday's debate, even Elizabeth Warren, a senator from Massachusetts and a progressive ally of Sanders, took a swing at her old friend.
She said they both wanted universal healthcare, but she "dug in" and "did the work" to pay for her plan, and "Bernie's team trashed me for it".
Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is seeking to become the moderate alternative to Sanders but so far has failed to make an impact, said neither Sanders nor Warren had shown the leadership in the Senate to accomplish much.
Sanders slammed for comments about Cuba
Sanders was criticized for his recent comments praising aspects of the late Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro's leadership, but said he opposed authoritarianism all over the world.
"When dictatorships - whether it is the Chinese or the Cubans - do something good, you acknowledge that. But you don't have to trade love letters with them," he said.
Bloomberg-Warren round 2
Bloomberg, who turned in a shaky performance in his debut debate last week in Nevada, was sharper and more aggressive this time. He defended his treatment of women after Warren reprised attacks on what she said was his history of making sexist comments.
He said he complied with a request from Warren in the last debate to release three women he worked with from their non-disclosure agreements.
"The trouble is, with this senator, enough is never enough," he said. "We did what she asked, and thank you, you've probably made the world better because of it."
Joe Biden’s situation
The pressure for a strong performance was high for all of the contenders. Biden, the national front-runner not so long ago, needs to win South Carolina to keep his campaign alive and said he expected to finish first on Saturday.
"I'm here to earn it. But, folks, I intend to win in South Carolina, and I will win the African-American vote here in South Carolina," Biden said.
Billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who has spent heavily on South Carolina, is threatening Biden in the state and runs third behind Biden and Sanders in the Real Clear Politics average of state polls.
Steyer warned that the party was headed to danger with either Sanders or Bloomberg, a former Republican, on top of the ticket.