Democratic Debate, Sanders Faces Attacks in South Carolina
Michael Bloomberg is trying for a do-over in Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate, previewing that he’ll turn his focus to newly minted front-runner Bernie Sanders after a much-criticized debut at last week’s face-off. #DemocraticDebate #SouthCarolinaPrimary #BernieSanders
Seven Democratic candidates will meet in Charleston, South Carolina, for a last encounter before that state’s primary on Saturday, and it would benefit Bloomberg if the rest of the field also sharpened their attacks against Sanders.
South Carolina’s primary is the last of the February preliminary rounds before the 14-state Super Tuesday contest on March 3, which includes huge delegate prizes of California and Texas, as well as the populous states of North Carolina and Virginia. Sanders is leading or tied for a top place in many of those states, and Bloomberg and former Vice President Joe Biden are in a fight for runner-up.
The debate is sponsored by CBS and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute and will be broadcast at 8 p.m Eastern time on Tuesday.
Last week, the former New York mayor was besieged by his rivals for the party’s nomination, who took him to task over his stop-and-frisk policing policies, allegations of a hostile work environment for women at his company and for self-funding his campaign at record levels.
(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)
The debate comes as Sanders has solidified his standing after a decisive victory in Saturday’s Nevada caucuses, a win in the New Hampshire primary and securing the popular vote in Iowa. That newfound strength means that Bloomberg will likely not be alone in piling on Sanders.
Bloomberg plans to deflect attacks on him over to Sanders, focusing on what many party leaders fear — that he would lose to President Donald Trump and hurt other Democrats on the ballot because he “appeals to a small base.”
“At the debate tomorrow night, and I think the campaign in general for folks in this race, needs to be about one candidate, and that’s Bernie Sanders,” Bloomberg states director Dan Kanninen told reporters on Monday.
The Bloomberg campaign stepped up its attacks on Sanders’s record on gun control on Monday, tweeting that the National Rifle Association “paved the road to Washington for Bernie Sanders” and that “we deserve a president who is not beholden to the gun lobby.”
The campaign also said it’s dispatching surrogates to California and other states to highlight what it called Sanders’s “dangerous record siding with the NRA” against gun-control measures, including voting five times against the Brady Bill to regulate handguns and supporting a NRA-backed law giving gun manufacturers legal immunity. Kanninen told reporters the record is “disqualifying.”
Biden is desperate for a victory in the state he long appeared to be dominant in, and he may be in position to win. A Public Policy Polling survey released Monday showed him with a broad lead over Sanders, 36% to 21%.
But after embarrassing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, and a second-place finish in Nevada, even a South Carolina victory might not bolster Biden firmly enough to Super Tuesday just three days later.
The focus on Bloomberg allowed Sanders to emerge largely unscathed from last week’s debate.
But since then, Democrats have been openly skeptical that the self-described democratic socialist could beat Trump, especially after he praised Fidel Castro’s literacy programs in Cuba during a “60 Minutes” interview and said he didn’t specify how he would pay for his trillions in proposed cradle-to-grave government programs.
Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar need strong performances — not so much to help them in South Carolina, where they lag in polls, but to propel them into Super Tuesday with enough strength to collect some delegates. Sanders took the lead Monday in the delegate count, with 45 to Buttigieg’s 25. Biden has 15, and the rest of the field each has fewer than 10.
There will be a second billionaire on the stage Tuesday. Tom Steyer, who had been pouring campaign resources into South Carolina, qualified for Tuesday’s debate.
Bloomberg’s campaign is at a critical juncture before Super Tuesday, the first time he appears on ballots. He had been rising in the polls by saturating the country with more than a half-billion dollars of advertising and had appeared mostly in controlled events before his introduction to many voters on the debate stage.
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