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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.

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Read our debate coverage:

Live Blog

WATCH: Warren hits Bloomberg over alleged abortion comment to employee

We apologize, this video has expired.

Plenty of fireworks, and we haven't even had Amy vs. Pete

Warren vs. Bloomberg is making a run at the title of most contentious debate dynamic, but it feels like just a matter of time until Klobuchar and Buttigieg square off as they've done in just about every other debate.

But unlike last time, they're not standing right next to each other. With a few candidates between them, maybe the buffer will cool things off.

Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden during the Democratic presidential primary debate on Feb. 25, 2020 in Charleston, S. C.Win McNamee / Getty Images

Where are the moderators?

A half-hour into the debate and CBS moderators Norah O'Donnell and Gayle King are noticeably hands off compared to the moderators of previous debates.

This wide-open discussion is encouraging the candidates to shout over one another, with several speaking for long periods of time after elbowing their way back into the conversation.

Another nasty exchange between Sanders and Bloomberg

The growing spat between Sanders and Bloomberg escalated with a pair of tit-for-tat attack lines delivered by both candidates during their umpteenth nasty exchange Tuesday night. 

"We will elect Bernie, Bernie will lose to Donald Trump," Bloomberg said, laying out his vision for what would follow if Sanders wins the Democratic nomination. He added that if Sanders leads the ticket, the Senate, the House and "some of the statehouses ... will all go red."

"For 20 years we are going to live with this catastrophe," Bloomberg said.

Sanders was ready to hit back, slamming Bloomberg for having a "solid and strong and enthusiastic base of support."

"The problem is they're all billionaires," he added.

Bloomberg hit for donating to Republican campaigns

While Bloomberg has dedicated much of his fortune to Democratic causes, the former mayor of New York has recently gotten flack — especially from Warren — for donating to Republican candidates. 

The biggest criticism is the money Bloomberg donated to Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who faced a tough re-election campaign in 2016. Bloomberg donated nearly $12 million to get Toomey re-elected because he had pushed to expand background checks, a key gun control item Bloomberg had pushed for through his nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety. 

Toomey won re-election by less than 2 percentage points, and Donald Trump won Pennsylvania by less than a percentage point, leading to a fair amount of finger-pointing at the mayor in 2020. 

Bloomberg — a former Republican who became an independent and then a Democrat — has in the past donated to more than a few Republican causes. Often, it appears, this was to further his own policy priorities. That hasn't helped him gain trust among some Democrats. 

Fact check: Bloomberg claims stop-and-frisk 'got out control,' so he cut it back

Bloomberg again claimed that he reined in the use of stop-and-frisk after it got "out of control" when he was mayor of New York.

"We let it get out of control, and when I realized that, I cut it back by 95 percent, and I've apologized and asked for forgiveness," he said. 

This is still a false representation. Bloomberg championed and expanded the stop-and-frisk policing practice — the strategy that gave police the authority to detain people suspected of committing a crime, which led to a practice of stopping mostly black and Hispanic men — during his three terms of mayor.

The practice was scaled back significantly thanks to a 2013 court order declaring the policy unconstitutional, not Bloomberg's change of heart.

Analysis: A train wreck

So far, the debate is a train wreck for Democrats — candidates slinging rocks at one another and moderators having lost any or all control.

Most of the candidates have accused Sanders, the front-runner, of promoting an agenda that would lose the election and destroy their party up and down the ballot.

Several said Bloomberg's "stop and frisk" policy when he was mayor of New York was "racist."

Bloomberg himself almost said he "bought" the Democratic Congress before he corrected himself and said he "got" the Democratic Congress. Warren pointed to Bloomberg's contributions to Republican lawmakers.

They all yelled to be heard.

No one looked good in the first half-hour.

Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Amy Klobuchar in the Democratic presidential primary debate on Feb. 25, 2020, in Charleston, S.C.Patrick Semansky / AP

Biden stays quiet, then gets mad

Biden, the former frontrunner, was somewhat absent during the first moments of the debate. But came out strong when he told the other candidate to shut up so he could speak. He hit Steyer over his support of private prisons and shut down Sanders when he tried to chime in, which earned his cheers from the debate hall. 

A strong performance ahead of the primary could help him and, before now, he had only attacked Sanders over guns and forcefully declared that he will win the South Carolina primary, which his campaign has dubbed his firewall. 

In the Nevada debate, Biden had a strong performance and came in second place in the Nevada caucuses. In South Carolina, his black support has been chipped away at by other candidates. If he sits back and lets the others attack will it allow him to go into the primary without many bruises or will it make him look feeble to voters here who wants a fighter against Trump? We’ll see. 

Health care reruns

This is the 10th Democratic debate, and the candidates are arguing over the math of health care plans ... again. Feels like the same exchange could have happened in the first debate — and it probably did. But this is South Carolina, where health care is a critical issue for the electorate.

Biden and the black vote. It’s make or break.

Asked about his sliding polling numbers with black voters, Biden vowed to win South Carolina.

“I’ve worked like the devil to earn the vote in the African American community,” Biden said. “I intend to win South Carolina and I will win the African American vote here in South Carolina.”

Biden, once considered the front-runner in the Democratic presidential primary race, has seen his standing slide as overwhelmingly white electorates in Iowa and New Hampshire handed more votes to candidates like Buttigieg and Klobuchar. In Nevada, Sanderssuccess with Latino voters has been credited with securing a victory in that state’s caucus last week. 

Biden’s campaign needs both the narrative and fundraising boost that could come with a victory in South Carolina. And, due to the state’s demographics, the key to such a victory could lie with black voters.