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Key Moments From the South Carolina Democratic Debate

The candidates, minus Tom Steyer. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

At the last debate before the Democratic primary in South Carolina and, cross talk dominated as the candidates pushed — often over each other — to get a last word in before the critical vote. Though candidates came out early critiquing the national frontrunner Bernie Sanders, the contest soon turned into a free-for-all, with the home crowd generally in favor of Michael Bloomberg and Joe Biden. Below, in reverse-chronological order, are some key moments from the most chaotic debate yet.

Biden vows to stop stopping

The former vice-president questioned his own habit of cutting himself off mid-sentence because his time was up.

Biden kept up the humor in his answer to the moderators’ closing question on each candidate’s greatest misconception, saying that his was “I have more hair than I think I do.”

Cuba comes to the floor

After Bernie Sanders defended his comments praising the Castro government for its education reform, Sanders was distracted, briefly, by booing.

Then the cross talk ensued, as other candidates criticized the Vermont senator for his comments, which Sanders likened to comments made by President Obama: “What I said is what Barack Obama said in terms of Cuba. Cuba made progress on education.”

Warren demands that Bloomberg release his taxes

Elizabeth Warren called out the former New York mayor for his plan to release his taxes after Super Tuesday, and compared his pledge to the unfulfilled promise made by President Trump to release his taxes after the 2016 election. Bloomberg defended himself saying that he has only been in the race for less than three months; Steyer, the other billionaire onstage, said that he has already release his returns.

Finally, a coronavirus question

As moderators mentioned the Trump administration’s chaotic response to the emerging crisis, Joe Biden cited the Obama White House’s response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak as proof of his ability to handle such a crisis. Both Biden and Amy Klobuchar mentioned the necessity of restoring the budget of the CDC from Trump’s cuts. Biden also stated that if he were president, he would inform China that U.S. health agencies would come to Beijing to help manage coronavirus outbreaks.

Bloomberg thinks he did well last debate?

Despite a general consensus that he fell flat in his first debate, the former New York mayor lightly taunted the other “contestants,” saying that he was surprised they showed up tonight after his performance in Las Vegas.

There appear to be a lot of Biden and Bloomberg fans in the crowd

While other debates were marked by protests, so far in South Carolina audience participation has come mostly in boos for Bernie and cheering for Biden and Bloomberg.

Sanders defends his gun record

Responding to his mixed record on gun control, Sanders admitted that he had made some errors among “thousands of votes,” while mentioning that he was not the only lawmaker onstage who erred: “Joe has voted for terrible trade agreements … Joe voted for the war in Iraq.” Sanders added that he now supports a ban on assault weapons, an expansion of background checks, and the end to the boyfriend loophole.

Bloomberg almost reveals his electoral philosophy

While describing his giving in the 2018 midterms, Bloomberg almost gave away his apparent 2020 strategy.

Medicare for All is a major target

Nearly all the candidates hit Bernie Sanders on his signature proposal, including a comment from Buttigieg saying that Democrats in swing districts are “running away from your platform as fast as they can.” Biden went a little broader, claiming that “Bernie hasn’t passed much of anything.”

Bloomberg and Warren continue to spar over his alleged comments

Warren also condemned the history of NDAs at the billionaire’s company: “The Bloomberg corporation and Mayor Bloomberg himself have been accused of discrimination. They are bound by nondisclosures so that they cannot speak. If he says there is nothing to hide here, then sign a blanket release and let those women speak.”

Bloomberg claimed he never said that a pregnant woman should get an abortion, and that he was “probably wrong” to make jokes that his employees found offensive. “I don’t remember what they were,” he said. “If it bothered them, I was wrong, and I apologize. I’m sorry for that.”

Warren goes after Bloomberg’s past support of Republicans

When asked to defend her statement that Michael Bloomberg is the “riskiest” Democratic candidate, Elizabeth Warren went to his record of donations, citing his financial support for South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, “anti-choice, right-wing” Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, and Warren’s own opponent in 2012, former Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts. She added that “the core of the Democratic party” does not trust him.

The candidates are coming for the frontrunner

The democratic socialist question

The debate began with moderators kicking a question to the only democratic socialist on the stage, asking Sanders how he could win the general election with unemployment rates so low. Sanders hit back with an answer pulled from his stump speech, citing that we already have democratic socialism for the rich, and that real wages are effectively stagnant. Bloomberg quickly hit back, citing the report that Russia is attempting to interfere in the primary to benefit Sanders. “I think Donald Trump thinks it would be better if he’s president,” Bloomberg said. “I do not think so. Vladimir Putin thinks that Donald Trump should be president of the United States, and that’s why Russia is helping you get elected.” Bernie replied to the Russian president, not to the former mayor: “Hey Mr. Putin, if I’m president of the United States, you’re not going to interfere in any more elections.”

“I’m hearing my name mentioned a bit tonight,” Sanders said. “I wonder why.”

Key Moments From the South Carolina Democratic Debate