Sanders pressed on Medicare math, Biden guarantees a win: How each candidate fared at SC debate

WASHINGTON – Sen. Bernie Sanders largely evaded criticism in last week’s debate. But Tuesday night, the Democratic front-runner wasn’t so lucky.

“I’m hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight,” Sanders said early on in the debate. “I wonder why?”

Sanders, who is leading in national polling and won the popular vote in all three early voting states, was questioned about his electability and was criticized once again for his signature policy, “Medicare For All.”

Seven candidates took the stage Tuesday night for the last debate before Saturday’s South Carolina’s primary and Super Tuesday next week.

Here’s a look at how each candidate performed:

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Former Vice President Joe Biden

Biden needs a win Saturday night. And he was confident in that win at Tuesday night’s debate.

“I will win South Carolina,” Biden vowed. “And I will win the African American vote.”

Biden came out swinging against Sanders, as well as billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer, who is in third place in South Carolina and is also is targeting African American voters.

Biden slammed Sanders for voting against the Brady Bill, which established background checks and waiting periods for handgun purchases. Biden claimed that had provisions of that bill been in place, it could have prevented a white supremacist from taking nine lives at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which is in Charleston, where the debate was being held. 

‘Hearing my name mentioned a little bit’:Sanders plays defense and other moments from the South Carolina Democratic debate

“Bernie voted five times against the Brady Bill,” Biden said.

Later on in the night, Biden also looked directly at the camera and vowed to take on gun manufacturers.

“If I’m elected, I’m coming for you,” he said. “And gun manufacturers, I’m going to take you on.”

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Bloomberg wasn’t the main punching bag Tuesday night, but he did take some hits from his opponents.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren once again confronted Bloomberg about releasing women from nondisclosure agreements that may have been signed in connection to settlements over sexual harassment claims. 

“People want a chance to hear from the women who have worked for Mike Bloomberg,” Warren said. 

Bloomberg was once again asked to address stop and frisk, a policy that disproportionately targeted minorities. The former New York City mayor said that he cut the program back after it got out of control, that he has apologized and that he has since met with black leaders. He also pointed to the more than 100 black elected officials who have endorsed him when asked how he could put to rest any lingering fears about stop and frisk.

Audio:Bloomberg slammed Warren as ‘scary’ and demeaned his endorsement of Obama

Despite the criticisms, Bloomberg was lighthearted at times and made several jokes.  

He joked that he was surprised that the other candidates showed up “after I did such a good job at beating them last week,” a clear reference to his widely panned debate performance in Las Vegas. He thought “that they’d be a little bit afraid to do that,” Bloomberg added, to some laughter from the audience.

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Tom Steyer speak after the Democratic presidential primary debate.

Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg wanted to make clear he’s the most electable candidate, and that meant trying to take down Sanders.

Buttigieg repeatedly attacked Sanders over his “Medicare for All” proposal, saying it would lead to President Donald Trump being reelected.

But Buttigieg was pressed about a topic that has loomed over his campaign: race relations.

Buttigieg, who is polling in single digits with black voters, was questioned about the stop-and-frisk policy that Bloomberg implemented in New York City. Buttigieg called the practice racist.

“It was about profiling people based on race,” he said.

More:Front-runner Bernie Sanders takes brunt of attacks during Democratic debate ahead of South Carolina primary

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, added that he’s addressing discrimination with a “great deal of humility” because his community has had its own struggles. Last summer, a white South Bend police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man; Buttigieg also has been criticized for his previous firing of the black South Bend police chief.

Buttigieg also noted that he was concerned everyone on the debate stage talking about discrimination was white, so none has the lived experience to know what it’s like to be a person of color.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg speak after the Democratic presidential primary debate.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar

“Klomentum” might be hitting some turbulence.

Klobuchar, who placed sixth in Nevada after a surge to third in New Hampshire, had to wait 15 minutes before she could get a word in at Tuesday’s debate.

And while she got the third-most speaking time, she did not have the standout moment she did when she went after Buttigieg during the Nevada debate. Klobuchar is trailing by a large margin in South Carolina polls and was looking for that big moment again.

But she did land at least one of her signature jokes.

She touted her Midwest roots when asked whether she would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Klobuchar said yes she would, but she not take the same approach as Trump.

Trump thinks he can bring “a hot dish to the dictator next door,” she said, adding that the president’s meetings with Kim have simply emboldened the North Korean leader.

In addition, she said she would work with U.S. allies – “that is what this president fails at all the time” – to reopen arms negotiations and stand up to adversaries like Russia.

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sanders was hit harder than he has been in any other debate.

As in previous debates, Sanders was once again asked to put a price tag on “Medicare for All” and explain how he would pay for it. Buttigieg was quick to say Sanders’ signature policy would cost Democrats the presidency, as well as control of the House and Senate.

“It adds up to four more years of Donald Trump,” Buttigieg said.  

Sanders also took flak for his recent comments praising aspects of Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Sanders, however, defended his comments, saying former President Barack Obama made similar comments.

“What I said is what Barack Obama said in terms of Cuba – that Cuba made progress on education,” Sanders said, prompting some booing from the audience.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks as former Vice President Joe Biden reacts during the Democratic presidential primary debate.

Despite the onslaught of attacks from his Democratic opponents, Sanders ended the night on a high note.

He received loud applause after quoting Nelson Mandela for the motto “that moves me the most.”

“Mandela said, ‘Everything is impossible until it happens,'” Sanders said. The Vermont senator prefaced the quote by saying the biggest misconception about him is that “the ideas I’m talking about are radical.”

“They’re not,” he said. “In one form or another, they exist in countries all over the world.” 

Billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer 

Steyer didn’t have the blowout night he likely needed ahead of Saturday’s primary.

Steyer, who has polled in third place in South Carolina, didn’t get much speaking time. He was also heavily attacked by Biden, who is leading in the state. Biden slammed Steyer for his lack of political experience and his support for private prisons.

“Tommy-come-lately,” Biden said at one point.

To make the case for himself, Steyer said Democrats are taking a huge gamble if they pick Sanders or Bloomberg as the nominee. 

Steyer said the party risks reelecting Trump if its nominee “is going to be a Democratic socialist” or – in Bloomberg’s case – “someone who has a long history of being a Republican.”

“If we can not pull this party together … we have a terrible risk of reelecting Donald Trump,” he said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren 

Once again, Warren didn’t hold back on Bloomberg.

Warren’s feistiest moments of the night where when she criticized Bloomberg for money he has given to “right-wing” Republican candidates, including Lindsey Graham, one of South Carolina’s GOP senators. She also noted that Bloomberg in 2012 “swooped in to try to defend another Republican senator against a woman challenger.”

“That was me,” she said. “It didn’t work, but he tried hard.”

Warren said she doesn’t care how much money Bloomberg has, but rather that Democrats can’t trust him because he has backed so many Republicans and used to be a Republican.

“He has not earned their trust,” Warren said.

Warren also criticized Sanders, but lightly, throughout the debate for not laying out the details for some of his progressive policies as she had.

She noted how they both want universal health care, but Sanders’ plan doesn’t explain how to get there.

“I dug in and did the work, and then Bernie’s team trashed me for it.” 

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