The Democratic debate in South Carolina on Tuesday opened with a series of attacks on U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has jumped to the lead after the first three contests to pick a presidential nominee.
The 10th debate was the final match-up before the state's primary on Saturday. Appearing on the stage with Sanders: former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and billionaire businessman Tom Steyer.
GOING FOR BERNIE'S JUGULAR
The candidates opened by zeroing in on Sanders, skewering him over his policies and reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin was helping his campaign.
Bloomberg told him that Vladimir Putin was trying to use him to assist President Donald Trump win a second term.
"That’s why Russia is helping you get elected," Bloomberg said.
Warren acknowledged that she and Sanders agreed on many progressive ideas, but said she would be the better president because she got things done.
"I dug in," she said of her work taking on big banks after the financial crisis in 2008. "I did the work and then Bernie’s team trashed me for it."
Of Sanders' health plan, she said that Sanders' plan did not explain how the country was going to get there.
"Progressives have got one shot and we need to spend it with a leader who will get something done," she said.
Buttigieg said Russians favored the chaos now engulfing the American political scene, and asked the audience to think about what it would mean to the country if the general election pitted Sanders against Trump.
Steyer credited Sanders with being correct on the problems, but not on solutions. The answer is to break the corporate stranglehold on the economy, double the minimum wage and cut taxes by 10 percent for those who make less than $250,000, Steyer said.
Biden accused Sanders of trying to mount a primary challenge against former President Barack Obama because he thought the Obama administration was weak, something Sanders has denied.
At the end, Sanders jumped back in. "I'm hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight," he said. "I wonder why."
Last week, Warren took on Bloomberg unrelentingly, leaving the mayor often looking stunned. She took aim at Bloomberg over accusations that he called women "fat broads" and "horse-faced lesbians" and she demanded that he release the former employees who had accused him or the company of discrimination from non-disclosure agreements.
Warren on Tuesday told a story of being discriminated against on the job after she became pregnant, and this time pushed Bloomberg to release all former employees from nondisclosure agreements.
And Warren accused him of telling a pregnant employee to "kill it," a charge that The Washington Post has reported. Bloomberg reached a confidential settlement with the woman who had sued him, and denied her allegation under oath.
"Never said it," Bloomberg said again on Tuesday.
He did apologize for "jokes" or off-color remarks he is supposed to have made to female employees, but he did not respond to the Warren's demand for more releases from non-disclosure agreements.
"With this senator, enough is never enough," Bloomberg said.
BLOOMBERG JOKES ABOUT HIS DEBATE DEBUT
Bloomberg was widely panned after his debate debut, which was criticized as disastrous. Tuesday night he took aim at the Democrats on the stage and himself.
First he criticized his fellow contestants for failing to pay much attention to the clock as they talked over each other and ignored the moderators' entreaties to finish speaking.
"I’m surprised they showed up after I did such a good job in beating them last week," he said.
A "GENIUS" IN THE WHITE HOUSE
Sanders mocked Trump directly as the senator tackled the country's need to cooperate with other countries to solve problems such as climate change and the coronavirus.
"In the White House today, we have a self-described 'great genius,' self-described, and this great genius has told us that this coronavirus is going to end in two months," Sanders said. "April is the magical deadline that this great scientist in the White House has determined -- I wish I was kidding -- but that is what he said."
Sanders called for expanding the World Health Organization and fully funding the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and National Institute of Health.
Last year, Trump called himself "an extremely stable genius."
MISCONCEPTIONS AND MOTTOS
At the end of the debate, the candidates were asked what was the biggest misconception about them and what was their personal motto. Here are their answers.
Biggest misconception: That he is only about business, success and money
Motto: To tell the truth and do what’s right no matter what
Biggest misconception: That she’s boring because she is not
Motto: The words of her mentor, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, that politics is about improving people’s lives
Biggest misconception: That he has more hair than he thinks he does
Motto: When you get knocked down, get up, everyone is entitled to dignity, and you’re defined by your courage and redeemed by your loyalty
Biggest misconception: That his ideas are radical, when they are not
Motto: The words of the late South African President Nelson Mandela, that everything is impossible until it happens
Biggest misconception: That she does not eat, when she eats all the time
Motto: Matthew 25 (inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of my brethren you have done it unto me)
Biggest misconception: That he is not passionate
Motto: If you would be a leader, you must first be a servant
Biggest misconception: That he’s 6 feet tall
Motto: He has trained for the job for a long time and when he gets it he’s going to do something rather than just talk about it
Who’s Running for President in 2020?
The field of Democratic 2020 presidential candidates is packed, though some have already dropped out. Those still in the race include a former vice president, senators, businessmen, House members, a former governor and a mayor. As for the GOP, a former governor and former congressman are vying to challenge President Trump.
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Updated Nov. 20, 2019
Note: Incorrect information about Michael Bennet’s cancer diagnosis and titles for Joe Sestak and William Weld have been revised on July 29, 2019, 3:17 p.m. ET.
Credit: Jo Bruni, Emma Barnett, Asher Klein, Dan Macht, Kelly Zegers / NBC; Photos: Getty Images