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CHARLESTON, Feb 26 ― Surging front-runner Bernie Sanders came under withering fire in a Democratic debate in South Carolina yesterday, as rivals criticized the high cost of his ambitious economic agenda and warned he would cost the party the White House and control of Congress.
In a contentious debate that featured candidates repeatedly shouting over one another in a bid for attention, Sanders' opponents united in attacking the independent senator and self-avowed democratic socialist as a risky choice to lead the party against Republican President Donald Trump in November.
“Bernie will lose to Donald Trump, and Donald Trump and the House and the Senate and some of the statehouses will all go red and then between gerrymandering and appointing judges, for the next 20 or 30 years we are going to live with this catastrophe,” billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
Pete Buttigieg, the moderate former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, criticized Sanders for the shifting estimates on the costs of his proposals such as government-run healthcare.
“I can tell you exactly how it all adds up. It adds up to four more years of Donald Trump,” Buttigieg said. “Not only is this a way to get Donald Trump re-elected, we got a House to worry about, we got a Senate to worry about.”
Sanders said he was raising issues that “the American people want, by the way ... raising the minimum wage to a living wage, 15 bucks an hour, making public colleges and universities tuition-free.”
Sanders has taken command of the race after strong showings in the first three nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. His momentum has alarmed a Democratic establishment wary that his plans to end economic inequality and strengthen the social safety net will lead to defeat against Trump.
Even Elizabeth Warren, a senator from Massachusetts and progressive ally of Sanders, took a swing at her old friend.
“I think I would make a better president than Bernie. And the reason for that is that getting a progressive agenda enacted is going to be really hard,” she said. “I dug in, I did the work, and then Bernie's team trashed me.”
The debate is the third this month and the 10th overall for the Democrats vying for the right to challenge Trump in the November 3 election. It is their final encounter before Saturday's South Carolina primary and next week's 14 vital Super Tuesday contests.
Bloomberg, Warren clash again
Bloomberg, who turned in a shaky performance in his debut debate last week in Nevada, was sharper this time, firing back at Warren when she attacked his record on making sexist comments about women.
Bloomberg referred to reports that US intelligence officials believe Russia is trying to help Sanders, an independent senator and self-avowed democratic socialist.
“Vladimir Putin thinks that Donald Trump should be president of the United States, and that’s why Russia is helping you get elected so you lose to him,” Bloomberg told Sanders.
Sanders shot back, saying: “Hey Mr. Putin, if I'm president of the United States, trust me you're not going to interfere in any more elections,” in reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The pressure for a strong performance was high for all of the contenders. Joe Biden, the national front-runner not so long ago, needs to win South Carolina to keep his campaign alive, while Buttigieg, Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer are desperately battling for relevance.
Steyer warned the party was headed to danger with Sanders on top of the ticket.
“We are looking at a party that has decided that we’re either going to support someone who is a democratic socialist or somebody who has a long history of being a Republican,” Steyer said, a reference to Bloomberg.
“I am scared, if we cannot pull this party together, if we go to one of those extremes, we take a terrible risk of re-electing Donald Trump.” ― Reuters
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