SALT LAKE CITY — The American people sat through the tenth — yes, tenth — Democratic debate Tuesday night and listened to the candidates talk over each other in what may have been the most fiery debate yet.
Held in Charleston, South Carolina, the debate was the last before Super Tuesday on March 3, when 14 states — including Utah — will vote in the presidential primary.
Here are three takeaways:
Weekend at Bernie’s
Within the first few minutes, almost every single candidate attacked front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders, and that trend continued throughout the debate. The attacks ranged from the Vermont senator’s history on gun control, to the “math” behind his Medicare for All plan, to his “electability” and ability to beat President Donald Trump.
Sanders acknowledged the attention himself, sarcastically questioning why his name was being frequently mentioned — a nod to his front-runner status in the primaries.
But each candidate had their own bone to pick with Sanders.
Former Vice President Joe Biden questioned the senator’s past opposition to waiting periods for gun buyers, while Sanders said he regretted some of his past votes on gun control and insistently repeated that the National Rifle Association had given his voting record a D-minus.
The moderators also pressed Sanders on his recent comments on CBS’s “60 Minutes” where he praised Fidel Castro’s literacy programs in Cuba — and former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg took the opportunity to claim that the last thing the Democratic Party needed was a nominee who “is telling people to look at the bright side of the Castro regime.”
But Sanders came under the most significant fire for his Medicare for All plan. Many candidates said “the math did not add up” on the plan, and he was the subject of several attacks from opponents who believed he was not the type of candidate that could beat Trump.
Sanders defended himself, however, citing several studies that indicated Medicare for All would save money, and reiterating the fact that his plans are not so radical in many developed countries around the world.
He ended the debate by quoting Nelson Mandela, who said that “it always seems impossible until it is done,” and equating that with his progressive plans for the country.
Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg also took heavy criticism from candidates, especially Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who put him on blast — again — for the nondisclosure agreements that bound women who worked for him to silence. He retaliated, saying he had released those women from their NDAs and pledged that his company would no longer use the agreements ever again.
But Warren came back again, shortly afterward, accusing him of funding Republican campaigns, including one of her previous opponents. While Bloomberg did not respond right away to her accusations, he later touted his support of House Democrats during the last midterm elections, saying “I bought — I got them,” referring to his $100 million monetary backing of dozens of representatives to keep the House in Democratic control.
Coronavirus is coming
Fears surrounding the coronavirus continue to affect those across the globe — and the stock market. The virus became a significant part of the Democratic debate for the first time, as candidates laid out their plans for responding to the crisis.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Biden and Sanders all advocated for increased federal funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the National Institutes of Health. And several candidates accused Trump of defunding those organizations while simultaneously leaving the country without the proper leadership to deal with a pandemic.
Biden positioned himself as the only candidate with the experience necessary to fight the crisis, citing his work with the Obama administration in containing the Ebola outbreak in 2014. He also said he would make it extremely clear to China that the country has to be open and honest about what’s going on.
"We have to know what's going on. We have to be there with you and insist on it and insist, insist, insist,” he said.
Klobuchar urged Americans to visit the CDC’s website and educate themselves on the potential pandemic.
“This is so serious,” she said. “I’m not going to give my website right now. I’m going to give the CDC’s website.”
Race as a constant, underlying "subtext"
Racial injustice has been a hot topic during most of the debates, but was especially so for Biden in South Carolina, where he hopes to prove that he has the black vote solidly behind him.
“My entire life, I have been involved with the black community. I was a public defender. I worked in the projects. I came along, and the first thing I did as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee was extending the Voting Rights Act eventually for 25 years,” he said.
Biden also promised to appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court if he wins the presidency, which drew cheers from the crowd.
Buttigieg noted, however, that all the candidates on the stage were white, and none of them could fully empathize with the challenges people of color face. That didn’t stop the candidates from talking about race, businessman Tom Steyer noted, as an underlying “subtext” to everything from housing policy to criminal justice.
And Bloomberg, once again, came under fire for his “stop-and-frisk” policy, which disproportionally targeted African Americans in New York. When pressed, he apologized, saying he let the policy “go too far.”