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South Carolina Democratic debate live updates: Candidates faced off in Charleston

The 10th Democratic debate was the last before the nominating contests in South Carolina on Saturday and 14 other states on Super Tuesday.
Image: Seven Democratic candidates will take the stage in a primary debate in South Carolina on Feb. 25, 2020.
Seven Democratic candidates will take the stage in a primary debate in South Carolina on Feb. 25, 2020.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

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The leading Democratic presidential candidates came out swinging at the party's 10th debate in Charleston, South Carolina, on Tuesday night.

The debate quickly descended into chaos as the current front-runner, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, faced a torrent of attacks from all sides, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren confronted former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg over his treatment of women, and several of the candidates literally shouted over each other about health care.

The two-hour debate, co-hosted by CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, is the final verbal bout before the candidates head into South Carolina's primary on Saturday and the Super Tuesday nominating contests of 14 states on March 3, where more than a third of Democratic National Convention delegates are up for grabs.

Download the NBC News app for full politics coverage.

Read our debate coverage:

Live Blog

Warren rips into Bloomberg — again

Warren used her first substantial speaking time at Tuesday night’s debate to slam Bloomberg, saying that his past support of Republicans amounts to being the “riskiest candidate” on the stage and a candidate unworthy of Democratic voters’ trust.

“Who funded Lindsey Graham’s campaign for re-election last time? It was Mayor Bloomberg. And that’s not the only right-wing senators he has funded,” Bloomberg said. 

She also referred to his backing of Scott Brown, Warren’s competition in the 2012 Senate election.

“It didn’t work, but he tried hard,” she said.

“I don't care how much money Mayor Bloomberg has. The core of the Democratic Party will never trust him. He has not earned their trust,” Warren said. “He is the riskiest candidate on this stage.”

Warren also opened her speaking time in last week’s debate in Las Vegas with a scorching attack on Bloomberg.

Bloomberg parries on stop-and-frisk

Bloomberg was once again asked about stop-and-frisk, a policy that overwhelmingly targeted minorities and was ended by a federal judge. He apologized for the policy, but pivoted to ones that have made New York City safer. 

Buttigieg criticized Bloomberg and said the policy was racist. He said that South Bend, Indiana, has had its own issues with race and that it’s important to be more conscious about racial inequality. 

Bloomberg tried to atone, saying he “knows that my success would have been a lot harder to achieve” if he were black. 

Fact check: Is half of America living paycheck to paycheck?

Sanders argued that the economy wasn't working for working people Tuesday, claiming that “real wage increases” were less than 1 percent for the average worker and that “half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck.” Is he right?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, real average hourly earnings increased 0.6 percent for the year that ended in 2019. Meanwhile, it's true that several studies have found that roughly half of all Americans live paycheck to paycheck — here’s one from this year and another from last year.

Buttigieg says Russia wants ‘chaos’ — experts say he’s right

Buttigieg jumped in on Bloomberg bringing up claims that Russia and Putin are backing Sanders. Buttigieg says Russia doesn’t have a party, it wants “chaos.”

This is also what many national security experts say. 

“The only thing we should assume to know for sure is that Putin and the Kremlin, with a singular influence campaign employed headed into the 2016 election, have continued to sow discord in America ever since and have achieved a strategic victory against the U.S. that continues to provide returns today,” wrote Clint Watts, a former FBI special agent and current MSNBC contributor.

Amy Klobuchar gets onto the board after more than 15 minutes.

Warren goes straight after Sanders

Warren, after a strong debate performance in Nevada last week attacking Bloomberg, went straight for Sanders, the new front-runner, saying she is the better progressive because she can actually get her agenda enacted. 

She said the party needs “someone who digs into the details," and while Sanders' people trashed her plans, his plans do not have details or a blueprint to get enacted.

Warren's going after Sanders is important because her campaign has been struggling and is often viewed as the alternative to Sanders but has not garnered the same momentum as his campaign. 

Early on, Bernie Sanders is the focus

The start of this debate couldn't have looked more different for Mike Bloomberg.

Bloomberg, who was attacked 10 times in the first 10 minutes of last week's debate, was attacked only once in the first 10 minutes tonight.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, was attacked seven times in that time, the most of any candidate on the stage and close to half of the 15 attacks doled out early on.

Follow the latest numbers with our South Carolina debate attack tracker.

Debate begins with economy question to Sanders — but quickly derails into Russia discussion

The debate opened with a question on the economy to Sanders — but his response (as well as an ensuing response from Bloomberg) prompted the topic to quickly shift to Russian interference in elections. 

After being asked about why voters should support him, when the economy is growing under President Donald Trump, Sanders used his reply to take a shot at Bloomberg.

The economy, Sanders said, is only doing well “for Mr. Bloomberg” and “other billionaires” but that “things aren’t so good” for ordinary Americans.

Bloomberg received an immediate opportunity to respond, saying that “I think that Donald Trump thinks it would be better if he were president.”

“That’s why Russia is helping you, so you lose to him,” Bloomberg said. The line was a reference to reports that he had been briefed about efforts by the Kremlin to try to to help his presidential campaign as part of an effort to interfere with the Democratic primary and the 2020 election.

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Yang's watching — and tweeting — tonight

Buttigieg gets endorsement of S.C.'s largest paper

On Tuesday, South Carolina’s largest newspaper, The State, endorsed Buttigieg. The Columbia newspaper’s endorsement went to Buttigieg despite his lagging performance with black voters, the majority of the state’s Democratic voters.

The paper’s editorial board described Buttigieg as the type of “energetic” and “disciplined” candidate with a “powerful yet pragmatic vision” needed to challenge Trump in November.

“The Democrats need a nominee who seeks to bring Americans together based on broad common ground — and not divide them along narrow interests,” the paper’s editorial board wrote. “Among the Democratic presidential candidates, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the best person to meet these challenges.”

Black voters make up more than 60 percent of South Carolina’s Democratic voters and about 30 percent of all registered voters in the state, according to census estimates from November 2018. The paper’s editorial board described developing support among black voters as Buttigieg’s “biggest challenge” and suggested that readers should evaluate Buttigieg in this area by effort, rather than outcome.

“Too often Buttigieg’s critics have ignored his substantive efforts to earn the support of black voters, and Buttigieg’s appeals to African Americans should be judged by this standard: Is his outreach genuine, and is it being undertaken in good faith?” the editorial board wrote. “We believe that it is.”