Updated Feb 26, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Debate night: Candidates' last face-off before Super Tuesday

Sanders, Biden and Klobuchar in South Carolina, Feb. 25. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders wanted to keep his momentum after winning contests in New Hampshire and Nevada, while former Vice President Joe Biden hoped to keep his own campaign alive. The other five candidates were just trying to hang on.

What's happening: Seven contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination were in Charleston, South Carolina, for the 10th debate, just days before the South Carolina primary and a week before Super Tuesday. They spoke, sometimes over each other, about health care, Russian interference in the election, foreign policy, the economy, gun control, marijuana, education and race.

  • Of note: Within two debates, Mike Bloomberg has emerged as a lightning rod for candidates hungry to distinguish themselves as challengers to President Trump, the other New York City billionaire in this race. A third billionaire, Tom Steyer, returned to the debate stage after a bye in Nevada.
Foreign policy
  • Bloomberg and Biden said they would not allow Chinese firms to build critical U.S. infrastructure.
  • Bloomberg advocated for placing U.S. troops overseas to combat terrorism.
  • Former South Bend Mayor Peter Buttigieg, in response: "I don't think we need to have ground troops anywhere terrorists can gather because terrorists can gather everywhere in the world."
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar did not say whether she would close the border to Americans who have been exposed to the coronavirus. On North Korea, she said she would meet with leader Kim Jong-un, "but I would do it with our allies."
  • Biden touted his experience dealing with the Ebola outbreak: "I was part of making sure that pandemic did not get to the United States."
  • Tom Steyer: "If you look at the biggest threats to the United States, we're talking right now about coronavirus that cannot be solved within the borders of the United States, we're talking about climate change, which is a global problem where we need U.S. leadership for countries around the world."
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, on moving the U.S. Embassy from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv: "We should let the parties determine the capitals themselves."
  • Sanders: U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East should focus on "absolutely protecting the independence and security of Israel, but you cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

Catch up quick: Biden's foreign policy centers around restoring America's global leadership and alliances, while Sanders is more likely to condemn American imperialism and Warren contends that America has hurt itself by promoting globalization, Axios' Dave Lawler writes.

Russian interference in U.S. elections
  • Buttigieg: "The Russians want chaos."
  • Sanders: "Putin, if I'm president of the United States, you're not going to interfere in any elections."
  • Biden: "The fact of the matter is we didn't have the information in the end," he said, of the 2016 election. The Obama administration theoretically could have done more to respond to reports of Russia interfering in the 2016 election, he added, advocating for imposing sanctions on Russia now.

Catch up quick: Sanders told reporters at a campaign stop last week that he was briefed by U.S. officials "about a month ago" on Russia's attempts to assist his 2020 presidential campaign, AP reports. "It was not clear what role they were going to play," he added.

Marijuana
  • Bloomberg, on states that have already legalized marijuana: "You're not going to take it away." But he insisted that with kids in their late teens, "it may be damaging their brains."
  • Sanders would "legalize marijuana in every state in the country" and help African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos "to start businesses to sell legal marijuana."
Education
  • Warren: "My secretary of education will be someone who has taught in public schools. ... People across this country are being crushed by student loan debt."
  • Sanders pledged to "triple funding for low-income Title 1 schools, make public colleges and universities tuition-free," and improve teachers' wages.
  • Buttigieg: "We don't have an adequate mental health system to support kids," also denouncing that teachers are expected to "somehow transform themselves into highly armed guards" in school shooting situations.

Catch up quick: Buttigieg supports free tuition at four-year public colleges for families earning up to $100,000. Biden has proposed a $750 billion plan to provide free tuition for community and technical colleges only, and Warren has pitched a $640 billion plan for public and private student-loan-debt cancellation.

Race
  • Buttigieg: Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk policy was "in effect" racist.
  • Klobuchar agreed.
  • Buttigieg: "I’m conscious of the fact that there’s seven white people on this stage talking about racial justice."
  • Warren: "We can no longer pretend that everything is race-neutral," she said about creating affordable housing. "It is important to recognize the role the federal government played for decades and decades in discrimination against African Americans having an opportunity to buy homes."
  • Biden said he would "go after people" causing gentrification. "We've got to deal with the institutional racism."
  • Steyer said he supports reparations.

Catch up quick: The U.S. District Court judge who ruled in 2013 that New York's stop-and-frisk policy violated the rights of people of color refuted Bloomberg's statements during the last debate.

Gun control
  • Biden, on Sanders' vote for a 2005 bill that shields gun-makers and sellers from lawsuits: "That has caused carnage on our streets,"
  • Buttigieg: "A second school-shooting generation has now been produced," adding that the weaponry he trained to use for war has "no business" being sold near U.S. schools or businesses.
  • Warren emphasized that pushing gun safety legislation relies on rolling back the filibuster.

Catch up quick: A chronic lack of gun violence research and data inaccuracies have hindered change to gun laws in the U.S. Mass shootings are also becoming deadlier: 10 years ago, the deadliest shooting left 16 people dead; in 2017, a shooting at a Las Vegas hotel killed 59.

Health care
  • Sanders, when asked to do the math to pay for Medicare for All's major components: "How many hours do you have?"
  • Biden shot back: "That's the problem."
  • The candidates all jumped in, talking over each other to denounce the plan's cost.

Catch up quick: The Urban Institute, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, estimates the cost of Medicare for All to be between $32 trillion to $34 trillion over the first 10 years.

Economy
  • Sanders, on how he would convince voters that a democratic socialist can do better than President Trump with the economy: "Well, you're right. The economy is doing really great for people like Mr. Bloomberg and other billionaires."

Catch up quick: Trump claims to have revolutionized the U.S. economy as the job market expands. But prospective homeowners are finding it harder to find houses, and if federal debt continues to grow at its current pace, incomes will drop and interest payments to foreign debt holders will increase.

Go deeper: What to watch in tonight's Democratic debate

Go deeper

What to watch in tonight's Democratic debate

Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Colorado. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Bernie Sanders is now the clear front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his opponents are ready to try to knock him down at tonight's debate in Charleston, South Carolina — especially Michael Bloomberg, who was the punching bag at the Las Vegas debate.

Why it matters: This is the last debate before Super Tuesday, when Sanders is expected to win California and Texas and could secure an insurmountable lead for the Democratic nomination. That's a direct threat to the entire field, but especially to Bloomberg, who skipped the early states to focus on the March 3 contests.

What to watch in tonight's debate: A new Joe Biden

Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden at the Democratic debate at Gaillard Center, Charleston, South Carolina, Feb. 25. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Viewers tuning in to tonight’s Democratic debate will meet a new Joe Biden — one who’s adopted two new progressive policies from Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and who’s eager to pull their supporters away from the movement they’ve built into his own coalition.

Why it matters: This could very well be the last primary debate of the 2020 cycle, and Biden knows he has to start the work of winning over Sanders’ supporters before Sanders drops out.

Debate night: Sanders and Biden go head-to-head

Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images.

Sunday's Democratic debate was the primary season's first one-on-one match, with former Vice President Joe Biden taking on Sen. Bernie Sanders on the coronavirus, the "political revolution," women's health, climate, the rise of authoritarianism around the world and minority voter support.

Why it matters: It could be the last primary debate of the 2020 election. Biden is significantly leading in delegates and poised to do well in upcoming nominating contests. He's also adopted more progressive policies from Sanders and former 2020 contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren to draw in their supporters.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Mar 16, 2020 - Politics & Policy