Takeaways From Democrats’ Last Debate Before South Carolina, Super Tuesday

(Bloomberg) -- The seven top-polling Democratic presidential candidates debated for the last time before Super Tuesday, zeroing in on front-runner Bernie Sanders and self-funding billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

In a two-hour face-off marked by cross-talk, shouting and long-winded answers, they argued over authoritarian leaders, age, socialism and who is best to beat President Donald Trump in November.

Bloomberg, Sanders jab on dictators

Michael Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders bickered over authoritarian foreign leaders in the opening minutes of the debate.

The former New York City mayor argued that Russian interference in the 2020 campaigns meant Vladimir Putin is supporting Sanders in the primary and President Donald Trump in the general election.

Takeaways From Democrats’ Last Debate Before South Carolina, Super Tuesday

“Russia is helping you get elected so you will lose to him,” Bloomberg said.

Last week, Sanders acknowledged that U.S. intelligence officials told him that Russia is attempting to help him. But at the debate, he brushed back Bloomberg’s remark, alluding to Bloomberg’s relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who Bloomberg has said is “not a dictator.”

“I’m not a good friend of President Xi of China,” Sanders said. “I think President Xi is an authoritarian leader.”

Buttigieg says Sanders longs for ’60s

Buttigieg, 38, accused Sanders, 78, of being nostalgic “for the revolutionary politics of the 1960s,” comparing it to what he said was Trump’s nostalgia for the 1950s.

The former South Bend mayor, who was 9 when the Soviet Union collapsed, also said Sanders was “reliving the Cold War.” Buttigieg said that Sanders’s praise for education and health-care programs under Fidel Castro would hurt the Democratic Party.

“We’re not going to win telling people to look on the bright side of the Castro regime,” he said, adding, “We’re not going to win by reliving the Cold War.”

Sanders, who defended old comments about Castro in a “60 Minutes” interview last weekend, also noted that the U.S. needs to be more honest about its history, including “the fact that America has overthrown governments all over the world,” citing U.S. involvement in coups in Chile, Guatemala and Iran.

Biden follows the rules

Throughout the evening, the moderators seemed to lose control of the debate as candidate after candidate blew through their one-minute, 15-second answer time.

Takeaways From Democrats’ Last Debate Before South Carolina, Super Tuesday

Biden, however, actually heeded the repeated injunctions to stop talking, but eventually seemed to think better of it.

“Why am I stopping? No one else stops,” he asked mock-incredulously.

Then, he quipped, “It’s my Catholic school training.”

That earned him a gold star from one of the CBS hosts, Gayle King, who called him a “gentleman.”

Warren gets personal on Bloomberg

Elizabeth Warren went after Bloomberg on very personal terms, noting that he once donated to her Republican opponent and raising sexual harassment claims at his company.

Takeaways From Democrats’ Last Debate Before South Carolina, Super Tuesday

Citing her own experience as a school teacher who lost her job after becoming pregnant, Warren brought up a lawsuit from a Bloomberg saleswoman who alleged that he told her to “kill it” when he learned she was pregnant.

“At least I didn’t have a boss who said to me, ‘Kill it,’ the way that Mayor Bloomberg said to one of his pregnant employees,” she said.

Bloomberg vehemently denied making the statement. “I never said it. Period. End of story,” he said of the complaint. “We cannot continue to relitigate this every time.”

“If you get nominated, we’ll be relitigating this all year,” Buttigieg said, breaking in.

Buttigieg welcomes billionaires

Buttigieg used a bit of rhetorical jiu-jitsu to parry a frequent line of attack from Sanders that Buttigieg relies on 50 billionaires to fund his campaign.

As Sanders was speaking, Buttigieg repeatedly tried to break in, saying he wanted to “clear this up once and for all.”

Once he got the floor, he said there were 2,000 small donors in “Charleston alone” who had given more than the billionaires mentioned by Sanders. He used the opportunity to plug his website and appeal to small donors, who he called the “lifeblood” of his campaign.

But then he looked straight into the camera with a message for billionaires: “If you’re watching right now and you support my campaign go to peteforamerica.com, and chip in,” he said. “And if you are watching right now, and you’re a billionaire, I will raise your taxes. But if you’d like to defeat Donald Trump, please go to peteforamerica.com and donate legal maximum of $2,800.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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