CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Democrats held their final debate before the South Carolina presidential primary and the critical Super Tuesday contests that follow three days later. It was a wild night with all of the candidates going full-on at each other with former Vice President Joe Biden having his best debate performance as he is in a must-win situation come Saturday at the South Carolina Primary.
For weeks now Biden has called South Carolina his “firewall,” even before his dismal finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. If he gets the breakthrough he needs, it probably won’t be because of a sterling debate performance.
Biden seemed as comfortable as he has on any Democratic debate stage since the first encounters last June. His attacks on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for his lack of support for the Brady Bill on gun sales and the ability to sue firearm manufacturers. He also went after the Vermont senator for his wanting to primary former President Barack Obama in 2012.
Overall, it was a steady performance when Biden most needed it. And he expressed some confidence. Pressed on whether he’d drop out if he doesn’t win Saturday, Biden declared, “I’m going to win South Carolina.”
Biden also landed the very important endorsement from South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn, the Democratic icon from the Palmetto State who is the “Godfather of Southern Politics.” In a very powerful and emotional speech in Charleston Clyburn was clear that the one real candidate who knew the black community was Biden.
The hope out of the Biden is get a big win over Sanders by say 10 points or more Saturday in South Carolina. A convincing win by double digits could get him back in the race and could help him win at least seven or more of those 14 states up for grabs on Tuesday.
Then we could have a real two-man race.
Back at the debate, Sanders, the frontrunner in the field being was also confronted with his position as a democratic socialist, his record on gun safety bills, and the question of electability. Sanders hopes for a close loss or even a close win and either could spell the end for Biden.
Heading into Super Tuesday with more money than anyone other than Bloomberg, Sanders can afford a loss in South Carolina. As the frontrunner, his real future depends on his ability to explain how he is going to pay for Medicare for All, Free College for All and his other social programs.
He also must make his case for how as a democratic socialist will attract a broad enough coalition to beat President Donald Trump. So, Sanders’s road to the nomination depends on how well Biden does in South Carolina and if all of the ads that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has an effect on the Super Tuesday voting.
Now let’s talk about the man who is number two on the Democratic delegate count Pete Buttigieg. The former Mayor of South Bend once again showed his skills on the debate stage. He continued to answer questions with calm and clarity and showed he could throw an elbow too.
But his path forward is still unclear, given that his support is overwhelmingly white — and the Democratic electorates in most upcoming primaries are not. Buttigieg helped lead the moderates’ charge against Sanders, almost mocking the idea of a general election between Sanders and President Donald Trump. “Imagine spending the better part of 2020” listening to such a match-up, he pondered.
It added up to another consistent performance for Buttigieg. The question is whether that will mean anything come Saturday in South Carolina and if he can win any state on Super Tuesday?
So while Mayor Pete has proved to be a force for the future, it does seem like the future may not be now.
As for the star of the New Hampshire debate Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar pulled out some of her go-to lines — like the one about checking with the duck hunters in her family as she formulates gun control policies — but she was often cut off by moderators for going over her time.
She consistently made the case for a Midwestern moderate as the best candidate to take on Trump. She hammered Sanders on the cost of his plans.
And she had one striking moment when she was asked about coronavirus and said the issue was too serious for politics. “I’m not going to give my campaign website,” Klobuchar said. Instead, she pointed viewers to CDC.gov, the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But she had a hard time breaking through at a time she may have needed it most. Despite her being a strong and viable candidate it is hard to see her going on far beyond Super Tuesday
“Can anyone imagine moderate Republicans voting for him?” former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg asked. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar noted that Sanders’ proposals cost $60 trillion — triple the U.S. economy. “The math does not add up,” she warned.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, finally did Tuesday what she has been reluctant to do throughout the campaign: make an explicit case for why she’d be a better president than Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont. But Warren needed to rough Sanders up in order to win back some of the Progressive support she enjoyed less than two months ago and she failed to really confront him.
Instead, Warren attacked Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, throughout the debate, including for his past support of Republican senators like Scott Brown, whom she defeated in 2012.
Frankly, it is hard to see how Warren makes it past Tuesday with no real path to a win anywhere on the map. Her chance to prove she could be the electable alternative to Sanders is all but gone and so will she as soon as next week.
That brings us to Tom Steyer, he has pinned his hopes on snatching South Carolina from Biden. But on Tuesday he will lose big and look for him to stick around only because he has the cash.
Without a clear win in South Carolina, it’s hard to see how Steyer wins anywhere else.