CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC/WIS) - Candidates pulled no punches in Sunday night's Democratic Debate in Charleston, the last nationally-televised debate before the Iowa Caucus.
The gloves came off in Charleston. What began as a civil talk among the three Democratic candidates fell to blows within the first hour of the debate, with most airtime showing a back and forth between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Democratic Party leaders were expecting jabs, barbs and an exchange of blows at the Gaillard Center, as the gap narrowed between Sanders and Clinton in Iowa down to just a point or two.
"This is the last attempt for especially Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley to get some traction going," South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison said.
Pundits have so far described the Democratic side of the presidential race as tame, especially compared to the crowded GOP field, but tempers flared on healthcare, with questions pitting Clinton versus Sanders and Martin O'Malley struggled to get airtime. And Clinton, once enjoying a strong lead, found herself at the end of Sanders' jabs on quickly-narrowing polls.
"We are running ahead of Secretary Clinton in terms of beating my friend Donald Trump," Sanders said. "Beating him by 19 points in New Hampshire!"
A big question as the dust settles is whether the salvos will alienate moderate voters, leaving the Democrats with a damaged candidate.
The head of the Democratic National Committee says no.
"Look back to 2008, you couldn't have had a more intense competition between Secretary Clinton and President Obama, DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said. "Of course we united. We united behind then Senator Obama."
The GOP will host a debate in South Carolina in the Upstate on Feb. 13, days after New Hampshire and a week before the First in the South Republican Primary.