Candidates pile on front-runner Sanders at Democratic debate
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) came under fierce attack at Tuesday night’s Democratic debate in Charleston, S.C., from every other candidate on stage, as Sanders’s rivals sought to blunt his momentum ahead of Saturday’s primary and Super Tuesday.
Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg opened by claiming that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants nothing more than for Democrats to nominate Sanders so that he can lose to President Trump.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) cast Sanders as a rigid ideologue who won’t be able to enact the progressive policies he wants to achieve because he can’t get along with anyone.
Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg accused Sanders of lying about how much money billionaires have donated to his campaign.
And former Vice President Joe Biden hammered Sanders on guns, saying that the Vermont senator had supported policies that led to mass shootings, including one that had happened at a nearby church in Charleston.
“I’m hearing my name mentioned a lot,” Sanders quipped. “I wonder why.”
Sanders’s dominant victory in the Nevada caucuses showed his growing support among racial minorities and the working class, leaving his rivals worried that he could run away with the contest by March 3, when about one-third of all delegates will be allocated on Super Tuesday.
Bloomberg has been blanketing the airwaves in those 14 states, but his disastrous debate performance in Las Vegas may have slowed his rise.
He opened the debate by saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants Sanders to be the nominee because President Trump has a good chance of beating him in November.
Bloomberg was referencing reports from anonymous intelligence officials saying that Russia is seeking to use social media to sow division in the 2020 Democratic primary, including by helping Sanders, the progressive independent who many establishment Democrats loathe.
“Putin thinks Trump should be president of the United States and that’s why Russia is helping you get elected so you’ll lose to him,” Bloomberg said to Sanders.
Sanders fired back, recalling Bloomberg’s past praise of China’s President Xi Jinping.
“I’m not a good friend of President Xi of China,” Sanders said. “I think President Xi is an authoritarian leader and let me tell me tell Mr. Putin, who tried to interfere in the 2016 election and tried to pit Americans against each other: Hey Mr. Putin, if I’m president, trust me, you won’t interfere with any more elections.”
Warren, meanwhile, is taking direct aim at Sanders for the first time, recognizing a need to cut into his lead among the progressive left.
The Massachusetts Democrat argued that she’d get more done because Sanders is a divisive figure within the party.
“The way I see it, Bernie is winning right now because the Democratic Party is a progressive party and progressive ideas are popular ideas,” Warren said. “Bernie and I agree on a lot of things, but I think I’d be a better president than Bernie.”
And Biden is taking his shots, after seeing new polls that find Sanders catching him in support among black voters.
Biden badly needs a first-place finish in South Carolina, where more than half of the electorate is black.
He pointed to the mass shooting at a church in Charleston in 2015 to argue that Sanders supported gun policies that paved the way for the massacre of African American attendees of a prayer meeting by a white gunman.
“I’m not saying he’s responsible for the nine deaths, but that man would not have been able to get that weapon with the waiting period of what I suggest,” Biden said.
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