Top story from Time: 7 Democrats Take the Stage for the Last Debate Before the South Carolina Primary — And Super Tuesday: Follow Live



We’re in the endgame now. Tonight, seven Democrats will face off in Charleston for the last Democratic debate of February, just a few days before the South Carolina primary. Crucially, it will also be the final debate before Super Tuesday on March 3, when more than a third of all delegates for the Democratic National Convention will be decided.

So far, 2020 has been Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ year. The self-described democratic socialist swept the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 22, winning 24 pledged delegates with 46.8% of the vote. Former Vice President Joe Biden came in second with 20.2%, winning nine delegates, and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg came third with 14.3%, winning three delegates. Sanders has done well throughout the primary; he came neck-and-neck with Buttigieg in Iowa — Buttigieg gained 13 delegates to Sanders’ 12 — and won the New Hampshire primary with 25.7% of the vote (Buttigieg came in a close second with 24.4%.)

Sanders’ sweep in Nevada exhibited his strength with non-white voters, particularly Latinos, and South Carolina will be a crucial test for his campaign. Biden has many of the states’ key endorsement and, as of Tuesday, RealClearPolitics’ polling average has him polling at 30.3% in the state to Sanders’ 22.3%. Two-thirds of likely voters for the Democratic primary in the state are African American, and Biden has polled well with throughout the primary and won the demographic in Nevada. But South Carolina might be as safely Biden’s at pundits once thought. Steyer has also heavily invested in South Carolina, and Sanders came in second among black voters in Nevada, with 28 to Biden’s 38%.

Before South Carolinians head to the polls, the candidates will make their case tonight. The Democratic primary debate will be co-hosted by CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute in Charleston, and air live on CBS stations from 8 to 10 p.m. EST. It will also stream live on CBSN, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, billionaire executive Tom Steyer, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren also appeared on stage. Steyer did not appear in the last debate.

CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell and CBS This Morning host Gayle King will moderate the debate. Face The Nation moderator Margaret Brennan, CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett and 60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker will also ask questions.

To qualify for the debate, candidates had to either:

  1. Be allocated at least one pledged delegate from previous contests.
  2. Receive at least 10% in at least four DNC-approved polls or 12% in two polls from South Carolina.

Before the Nevada Democratic debate, candidates also had to meet a donor threshold, blocking out former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has pledged to self-fund his campaign. But beginning with the ninth debate the DNC announced it would no longer require certain donor numbers, paving the way for the billionaire to qualify.

Tonight could be one of the most crucial debates of the primary. “In general, debates do not matter much in determining how someone votes. They usually just reinforce the beliefs one already has about a candidate,” Kendra Stewart, a professor of political science at the College of Charleston, writes TIME in an email. “However, with still so many undecided voters in South Carolina, this debate could have a tremendous impact on Saturday’s primary.”

It could also impact some crucial endorsements by members of the Black Caucus, particularly Congressman Jim Clyburn, who The Post and Courier reports is still deciding between multiple candidates.

Follow along for live updates of the South Carolina debate.

Bernie Sanders will take the debate stage as the front runner

If candidates have any hope of stopping Sanders, they need to do it now. Although less than 3% of pledged delegates have been allocated, the Vermont senator’s momentum is clear. If he sweeps Super Tuesday on March 3, he could effectively run away with the nomination.
So expect him to take a beating tonight. Most candidates will likely raise questions about electability, arguing his policies are too progressive to defeat Trump. The influential Rep. Clyburn has already voiced this concern.
“Until now, I think some have been hesitant to get into clashes with Sanders, especially since his supporters can be very defensive,” Hans Noel, a professor of political science at Georgetown University writes TIME in an email. “But they can’t beat him if they ignore him.”

Sanders will also likely go after Biden, who stands in his way of winning the Palmetto State. Kendra Stewart of the College of Charleston predicts that the former Vice President’s history on civil rights issues might be raised again, such as his opposition to federally mandated de-segregation busing in the 1970s.

Stewart adds that economic issues are particularly important to South Carolina African American, and topics such as fair wages, housing accessibility and income inequality could all come up. These could be chances for Sanders to make his case for democratic socialism. “The goal for each candidate tonight is to establish themselves as someone who appeals to and can mobilize black voters,” she explains.
Tom Steyer has invested heavily in South Carolina, arguing that he is that mobilizing candidate. He qualified with the debate by polling above 12% in two South Carolina polls, and received the endorsement of the Black Women’s Caucus of South Carolina. His surge could spell good news for Sanders and bad news for Biden; it’s possible he could split the moderate vote, allowing to Sanders to win with a coalition of progressives.
But Steyer isn’t the only moderate billionaire on stage giving Biden a headache.

Michael Bloomberg will make his second debate appearance

Bloomberg made his debate debut last week, and it did not go well for the former New York City mayor. In Nevada the billionaire faced repeated attacks from his fellow candidates, particularly Warren. For months, the senator has argued that his candidacy exemplifies the corrupting power money has in politics, and she stressed this message while on stage.

During the debate, Warren also asked the former mayor to waive any NDAs that previous employees had signed after filing complaints against the him; Bloomberg said he wouldn’t because they were “agreements between two parties that wanted to keep it quiet.”

But on Friday he changed his tune, announcing his company would work with three women to release them from nondisclosure agreements that they signed. Warren and Biden responded that he did not go far enough, and demanded that Bloomberg issue a blanket statement releasing all current or former employees from their NDAs. The topic could come up again tonight, as it proved an effective talking point for both Warren and Biden.

While the topic of race will obviously be important, the “field also no features no black candidates,” Noel explains. “So the history of each candidate with those issues will be on display.”

Bloomberg’s checkered history with on civil rights issues will almost definitely also come up, especially his role in the controversial New York Police Department program known as “stop and frisk,” which he was linked to as mayor of the city between 2002 and 2013. The program gave police the power to stop, shortly detain, and search anyone they thought would commit a crime. Critics have argued the program amounted to racial profiling; black and Latino communities were disproportionately affected and a federal judge ruled in 2013 that the policy violated the constitution. In addition, no evidence has suggested it lead to lower crime rates. In November, shortly before he announced his candidacy, Bloomberg apologized for the program. He’s faced scrutiny for past comments linking the 2008 crisis to ending the discriminatory housing practice of redlining, and for supporting the NYPD’s allegedly prejudiced practice surveilling Muslim communities in New York.

If Bloomberg has properly prepared for this debate, he’ll have answers ready on those topics.