(AP) — Democrats unleashed a roaring assault against Bernie Sanders and seized on Mike Bloomberg’s past with women in the workplace during a contentious debate that tested the strength of the two men at the center of the party’s presidential nomination fight.
As the undeniable Democratic front-runner, Sanders faced the brunt of the attacks for much of the night, and for one of the few times, fellow progressive Elizabeth Warren was among the critics. The Massachusetts senator pressed the case that she could execute ideas that the Vermont senator could only talk about.
“Bernie and I agree on a lot of things,” she said. “But I think I would make a better president than Bernie.”
A group of moderates, meanwhile, fought to emerge as the chief Sanders alternative.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking a strong win in South Carolina to keep his campaign afloat, argued only he has the experience to lead in the world. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar repeatedly contended that she alone could win the votes of battleground state moderates. And former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg pointed to Sanders’ self-described democratic socialism and his recent comments expressing admiration for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s push for education.
“I am not looking forward to a scenario where it comes down to Donald Trump with his nostalgia for the social order of the 1950s and Bernie Sanders with a nostalgia for the revolutionary politics of the 1960s,” Buttigieg declared.
But the moderates did little to draw separation among themselves, a dynamic that has so far only benefited the Vermont senator. Sanders fought back throughout the night, pointing to polls that showed him beating the Republican president and noting all the recent attention he’s gotten: “I’m hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight. I wonder why.”
Trump, who returned to Washington early Wednesday after a two-day trip to India, responded to a reporter’s shouted question about whether he’d seen the debate: “I did,” he said while stepping into a car. “Not too good, not too good.”
The intensity of Tuesday’s forum, with candidates repeatedly shouting over each other, reflected the reality that the Democrats’ establishment wing is quickly running out of time to stop Sanders’ rise. Even some critics, Bloomberg among them, conceded that Sanders could build an insurmountable delegate lead as soon as next week.
The 10th debate of the 2020 primary season, sponsored by CBS and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, was just four days before South Carolina’s first-in-the-South primary and one week before more than a dozen states vote on Super Tuesday. The Democratic White House hopefuls will not stand side by side on the debate stage again until the middle of March. That made Tuesday’s debate likely the last chance for some candidates to save themselves and alter the trajectory of the nomination fight.