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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

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.

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.