The stage was set in the Gaillard Center in Charleston, South Carolina where the tenth Democratic Primary debate would take place. The two-hour event began at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 25, and seven candidates qualified for it. The debate was hosted by CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute.
The debate comes three days after the Nevada caucus, which saw Senator Bernie Sanders win with 46.8 percent of the vote. Second place went to Joe Biden with 26.6 percent. Sanders became the first candidate for president to win the popular vote in the first three states. The Vermont senator is seeing a rise in multiple levels, as the latest Real Clear Politics polling average has him over 11 percent ahead of the rest of the field.
The Sanders campaign has been in the spotlight for things beyond their primary successes. A day before the Nevada caucuses The Washington Post disclosed that Russia was trying to interfere in the U.S. election by aiding his campaign. Sanders denounced Russian efforts.
He was briefed on the matter a month ago and alluded that timing of the news being released was meant to negatively impact his performance in Nevada by saying, “I’ll let you guess about one day before the Nevada caucus. Why do you think it [The Washington Post article] came out?”
In recent weeks reporters have brought up Sanders’ praise for some of Fidel Castro’s programs in Cuba. In a “60 Minutes” interview with Anderson Cooper, he addressed that just because he could applaud some of Castro’s actions does not mean that he found all of his actions commendable. On this, he said “We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad.”
This came after Sanders spoke out in support of Evo Morales, the former socialist leader of Bolivia who was ousted in a military coup after he sought a fourth term in power. Both instances have been used by the mainstream media and other candidates to further propel the narrative that Sanders’ democratic socialist views would not fare well in a general election against President Trump.
Tom Steyer appeared on stage again after not qualifying for the Nevada debate. Although the former hedge fund executive did not get a single delegate in the first three contests, most indications show that he is set to be viable in South Carolina. A poll was released on Feb. 22 by CBS News and YouGov has the billionaire at 18 percent in the Palmetto State. Steyer has also out-spent the rest of the field in this state.
This debate was crucial for the Biden campaign as he is third in the delegate count and has not won any of the first three states, even though he polls in first in South Carolina over Sanders by a small margin. Even though this is Biden’s third go at the nomination, he has not won a state, even back when he ran in 1988 or 2008.
Biden received the endorsement of Congressman Jim Clyburn the day after the debate. Clyburn is one the most powerful members of the House being the House Majority Whip and has been representing South Carolina in Congress since 1993.
This was Michael Bloomberg’s second appearance at a democratic debate and he had much to prove after all of the candidates criticized his record in the Nevada debate. Bloomberg did not have a prepared response for the stop-and-frisk policy that he expanded as mayor of New York City or his support of several Republican officials, including George W. Bush in 2004.
Bloomberg started the night by being the first to attack Sanders’ electability.
“Putin thinks that Donald Trump should be president of the United States,” he said, “and that’s why Russia is helping you get elected so that you lose to him.”
Early in the debate, Biden claimed that he would win South Carolina and especially the African American vote there. He later attacked Sanders for voting against the Brady Bill five times; that piece of legislation would have mandated federal background checks on firearm purchasers in the United States. Sanders followed that by addressing his D- approval rating from the NRA.
Elizabeth Warren came to defend Sanders’ progressive vision for the country throughout the night by saying they were popular but she still claimed she would be a more efficient president.
Pete Buttigieg tried to pitch himself as the safest choice for most Americans by saying that he did not want to further the status quo or tear down the system as president, referring to Bloomberg and Sanders respectively.
Senator Klobuchar also joined in the criticism, saying that he would hurt elections down the ballot for democrats because he had “alienating” policies. Sanders responded by reminding the field that his favorability rating was the highest amongst them.
Foreign policy was central to the second half of the debate where topics like the Middle East, coronavirus and China were covered. Bloomberg and Biden agreed on not letting Chinese firms build critical U.S. infrastructure. Warren used this topic to denounce the negotiations Bloomberg has with China and how he has yet to release his tax returns.
South Carolina’s primary will be held tomorrow and the state carries 54 delegates. To clinch the nomination, 1,991 delegates are needed by a candidate by the time they hit Milwaukee at the democratic national convention.
This was also the final debate before Super Tuesday on March 3, when 14 states and one U.S. territory will turn out to vote.
The next debate will be on March 15, in Phoenix, Arizona and it will be hosted by CNN and Univision. The twelfth and final debate will be in April, but other details have yet to be finalized.