Tuesday night proved to be a chippy debate once again, as the democratic primary took candidates to Charleston, South Carolina for their final competition before Super Tuesday in a week’s time.
The six candidates traveled from Nevada last week to South Carolina, known as the Palmetto State, and were joined once more by businessman Tom Steyer, who took a brief hiatus from the stage after a failure to qualify for last week’s debate.
After a landslide victory for Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator came right out the gate throwing punches at Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, for his billionaire status when he was asked about the status of the nation’s economy.
“It’s not an economy working for the American people,” Sanders said. “It’s an economy working for the rich.”
Although he began with a fiery start, Sanders soon fell back on defense when he started taking blows from Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar for his inconsistent price tag on his healthcare policy. Buttigieg also made sure to point out the potential party damage that Sanders could cause as the nominee.
“If you want to keep the House in Democratic hands, you might want to check with the people who actually turned the House blue,” he said. “40 Democrats who are not running on your platform, they are running away from your platform as fast as they possibly can.”
The onslaught did not stop there for Senator Sanders. Bloomberg jumped on the opportunity to attack with the recent news from U.S. officials who believe Russia is, once again, attempting to interfere with the American election process by aiding Sanders.
After achieving the most success of his campaign with a second place finish in Nevada, Joe Biden comes into South Carolina as the favorite to win the state, knowing his campaign will need a huge success on Super Tuesday if he has any hopes of maintaining viability.
“I will win South Carolina,” he said Tuesday night.
Taking the few chances he had to speak, Biden took precise shots at Sanders, the front runner, over his lack of toughness on gun control as well as comments he made on “60 minutes” praising Cuba’s education progress and China’s ability to lift more people out of poverty than any other nation. Sanders’ defense was an attempt to side with former president Barack Obama’s policy about Cuba, which only fueled the fire Biden had lit.
“[President Obama] did not in any way suggest that there was anything positive about the Cuban government,” he said.
The legacy that the former president and vice president formed together has been a large part of Biden’s campaign and he has refused to share that legacy with other candidates on the debate stage.
As the debate became more contentious, with candidates talking over one another in a struggle for more speaking time, the moderators brought the lesser spoken topic of education front and center. The candidates were seemingly in agreement about teachers being undercompensated for their work, but Buttigieg took the opportunity to personally connect to the topic by referencing his husband, who is an educator.
“Almost every night, I get to go home and get an education about education from an educator,” Buttigieg said.
Bloomberg also took the chance to boast the education plan that he championed while he was in office.
“We have cut the gap between the rich and the poor, we have made an enormous difference in the options parents have,” he said. “Rather than just talk about it, in New York we actually did it.”
Although this was a much more confident performance for the former New York City mayor, Bloomberg was still on the receiving end of criticism from candidates such as Senator Elizabeth Warren. After receiving a mostly positive reaction from the crowd in Nevada for her punches at Bloomberg, Warren took the same approach in Charleston. However, this time, she was met with staunch booing from the crowd with repeated attacks about nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) that Bloomberg had with numerous women while he was the CEO of Bloomberg, L.P.
Along with her attacks about his NDAs, she also sharply criticized the former mayor for his support and funding of Republican senators, referencing her own struggle to get elected due to Bloomberg’s support of one of her rivals. She made it a point, however, to let voters know that she still overcame that difficulty to win her seat in the senate.
Losing ground, partially due to missing the debate last week, Tom Steyer looked to reintroduce himself to voters. He readdressed his central policies such as climate change, term limits in Congress and Russian interference in the election. Although he was documented as having significantly less speaking time compared to other candidates (7:09 according to CNN), he took part of his time to take a stab at President Trump for not addressing the Russian interference head on.
“21st century warfare is cyber-warfare,” Steyer said. “The president stood beside a hostile foreign leader.”
Following a lackluster performance in Nevada, Senator Amy Klobuchar needed a good showing Tuesday. In a shift from last week’s debate, the Minnesota senator steered clear of any battling with Buttigieg. Instead, she focused more on her own policies and accomplishments, while also directing slight attacks towards Sanders. When confronting him about his medicare policy, she said: “Stop making broken promises that only look good on bumper stickers.”
Klobuchar also took aim at the current president for his dealings with North Korea. She criticized him for taking “a hot dish to our neighboring dictator and calling it diplomacy.” She was not alone in criticizing the president for his international policy. The former vice president chimed in with a simple statement that drew a heavy applause from the crowd.
“You do not negotiate with a dictator and give them legitimacy,” Biden said.
The South Carolina democratic primary will be held Feb. 29 and is the conclusion of the four early primaries. It will set the tone for Super Tuesday on March 3, which features primaries in fourteen states, including Tennessee.