Candidates square off in Democratic presidential debate showdown in Charleston

VIDEO: Candidates square off in Democratic presidential debate showdown in Charleston

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - Democratic rivals were hoping to knock Bernie Sanders off his front-runner perch in a debate before a critical South Carolina primary that could dramatically reshape the race.

The Vermont senator faced an unprecedented assault from his Democratic rivals as the party’s turbulent nomination fight threatened to explode on the debate stage Tuesday night.

Elizabeth Warren went straight at fellow progressive Sanders as the debate began. Warren said Tuesday that she would be a better president than Sanders because she’ll be able to get more progressive policies passed. She said she’s “dug in” when it comes to fighting big banks and actually explaining how she’d enact universal health care. Warren and Sanders share many of the same policy goals. But Sanders has performed far better in the early presidential nominating contests. Warren’s comments mark some of the sharpest contrasts she’s drawn with him so far.

No fewer than three Sanders rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, unleashed paid attack ads against him. And several outside groups traditionally aligned with Democrats worked to undermine Sanders’ standing with key constituencies.

Former Vice President Joe Biden said he was the presidential candidate best situated to appeal to black voters, citing his commitment to equitable wealth creation and housing opportunities.

Biden said during Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate that he would also go after those trying to gentrify neighborhoods traditionally occupied by minority residents. The debate is the final one ahead of South Carolina’s Saturday primary. On Monday, Biden rolled out a $640 billion national housing policy, which would prevent mortgage servers from foreclosing during loan modification and set up a timely notification system for such changes

Hours before the Democratic presidential candidates took the debate stage, Vice President Mike Pence trained his focus on Sanders while campaigning in Michigan. Pence on Tuesday swatted away a question from a reporter about whether Sanders would prove to be a tougher opponent in the battleground state. But the vice president suggested that Sanders’ advocacy for “Medicare for All" wouldn’t sit well with rank-and-file United Automobile Workers union members in the state’s auto industry.

“Telling hundreds of thousands of UAW workers that they’ll lose their health insurance doesn’t sound like a winning message,” Pence said.

In addition to Sanders, Biden, Buttigieg and Bloomberg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Billionaire investor Tom Steyer, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren walked on stage at the Gaillard Center hoping they will finish the debate having convinced voters in South Carolina and elsewhere that they should be the person to face Donald Trump in November.

CBS News co-hosted the debate with the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. It began at 8 p.m. and was at the Charleston’s Gaillard Center.

CBS News Anchor Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell moderated the debate and was joined by “Face the Nation” moderator and senior foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Brennan, chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett, and “60 Minutes” correspondent Bill Whitaker.

Biden predicts victory ‘by plenty,’ Republicans promote Trump outside debate venue

Biden predicted victory in South Carolina, saying Monday that he would win “by plenty” in a South Carolina primary this weekend.

But Sanders is in the enviable position of front-runner, which is alarming those in the party as too liberal to defeat President Donald Trump. Biden, Buttigieg and Bloomberg reinforced their anti-Sanders rhetoric with paid attack ads in the hopes of loosening front-runner Sanders’ grip on the nomination. And several outside groups traditionally aligned with Democrats worked to undermine Sanders’ standing with key constituencies.

Also at play in Tuesday night’s debate in Charleston, South Carolina, is Mike Bloomberg’s status as the preferred punching bag for his rivals for the nomination. While Bloomberg took the brunt of criticism in last week’s debate, the other candidates might well turn their attention to criticizing Sanders as he threatens to overwhelm the race with another victory.

The debate is important for all of the candidates because it is the final debate before South Carolina’s Democratic Presidential Primary on Saturday as well as the last one before Super Tuesday on March 3.

Republicans, meanwhile, were aiming to make an argument for President Donald Trump’s reelection, regardless of his opponent in November. The Republican National Committee and the South Carolina Republican Party teamed up for digital billboards and a mobile billboard truck outside the Gaillard Center.

The billboards tout 131,000 job gains in South Carolina during Trump’s tenure, as well as tax cuts and “record low unemployment.” Some digital billboards will stay up until Friday, when Trump holds a rally in North Charleston.

Roads close in downtown Charleston ahead of debate

Charleston Police say multiple roads will close Tuesday because of the required heightened security measures. The first road closure began at 1 p.m.

  • Alexander Street just past the Gaillard Garage closed at 1 p.m. Garage traffic only will be permitted after 1 p.m.
  • George Street between East Bay and Anson Streets closed at 4 p.m.
  • Anson Street between George and Calhoun Streets closed at 4 p.m.

The roads are expected to reopen at approximately 11 p.m., Charleston Police spokesman Charles Francis said.

Copyright 2020 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.