“The South Carolina Free-for-All” – Sunday Political Brunch – March 1, 2020

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – For the second straight week, the long-knives were out in the Democratic presidential debate. First it was Nevada, and now it’s South Carolina. The goal was to make point for Saturday’s Palmetto State Primary, but also for the 14 states and territories voting on Super Tuesday. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Target: Bernie Sanders” – Look, Sanders basically tied Iowa with Pete Buttigieg, before going on to convincing wins in New Hampshire and Nevada. He’s the frontrunner for now. So, it was not a surprise that Sanders came under attack as soon as the South Carolina debate began. This from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg: “I think that Donald Trump thinks it would be better if he's president. I do not think so. Vladimir Putin thinks that Donald Trump should be president of the United States. And that's why Russia is helping you [Sanders] get elected, so you will lose to him.” To which Sanders responded, “Oh, Mr. Bloomberg… hey, Mr. Putin, if I'm President of the United States, trust me, you're not going to interfere in any more American elections.”

“Warren’s Warring” – Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren were once close friends. I think that ship has sailed. She talked about their allegiance on many issues, but then turned to heath care. “I dug in. I did the work,“ Warren said, adding, “And then Bernie's team trashed me for it. We need a president who is going to dig in, do the hard work, and actually get it done. Progressives have got one shot. And we need to spend it with a leader who will get something done.” So, now two punches landed on Sanders.

“Buttigieg Weighs In!” – The whole notion here is that Russia has already been caught trying to interfere with the 2020 election just as it tried in 2016. Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg weighed in saying, “I will tell you what the Russians want. They don't have a political party. They want chaos. And chaos is what is coming our way. I mean, look, if you think the last four years has been chaotic, divisive, toxic, exhausting, imagine spending the better part of 2020 with Bernie Sanders vs. Donald Trump.”

“Biden Bites” – Former Vice President Joe Biden needed a stronger debate performance and he took aim at Bernie Sanders: “Walking distance of here is Mother Emanuel Church, nine people shot dead by a white supremacist [in 2015]. Bernie voted five times against the Brady Bill and wanted a waiting period.... A waiting period of 12 hours. I'm not saying he's [Sanders] responsible for the nine deaths, but that man would not have been able to get that weapon with the waiting period had been what I suggest until you are cleared.”

“Sanders Fires Back” – The combative Vermont Senator was not going to allow himself to be the nightly punching bag and took on both Biden and Buttigieg: “I wonder why. And maybe, you know, Pete mentions what the American people want. I will tell you, Pete, what the American people want, and, Joe, what the American people want. They don't want candidates to be running to billionaires for huge amounts of funding,” Sanders said alluding to rich donors trying to help other candidates “buy” the election.

“It’s Not Over, Until It’s Over”—After disappointing performances in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, CBS anchor Gayle King asked, “Mr. Biden, will you continue if you do not win South Carolina? You have said that South Carolina will determine the outcome of this presidential race. If you don't win South Carolina, will you continue in this race? Biden shot back, “I will win South Carolina!” Maybe he will, but many political watchers wonder if Biden can survive beyond Super Tuesday on March 3rd, if he can’t show some decisive primary wins.

“Nastiest Exchange of the Night” – Elizabeth Warren took on Michael Bloomberg in a big way, suggesting he told a pregnant female employee to get an abortion. Warren told her story: “When I was 21 years old, I got my first job as a special education teacher. I loved that job. And by the end of the first year, I was visibly pregnant,” Warren said, adding “The principal wished me luck and gave my job to someone else. Pregnancy discrimination, you bet. But I was 21 years old. I didn't have a union to protect me. And I didn't have any federal law on my side. So, I packed up my stuff, and I went home. At least I didn't have a boss who said to me, "Kill it," the way that Mayor Bloomberg is alleged to have said... to one of his pregnant employees.” Bloomberg shot back, “I never said that. Oh, come on… I never said that. And for the record, if she was a teacher in New York City, she would never have had that problem. We treated our teachers the right way, and the unions will tell you exactly that.” Ouch!

“Can They Make Peace?” – As I have suggested for weeks, one of the most calm, reassuring, and mediating voices in this race has been Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) Minnesota. After all this week’s debate dustups she said, “If we spend the next four months tearing our party apart, we're going to watch Donald Trump spend the next four years tearing our country apart.” I still predict that if she doesn’t surge to the nomination, Klobuchar is the likely and logical VP pick for almost every Democrat in this race who might lead the ticket.

“In Summary” – After eight relatively cordial and polite debates, the gloves came off the last two weeks in Nevada and South Carolina. It was downright ugly. Fellow political analysts have called it the “Democrats circular firing squad,” and I referred to it as a “political demolition derby.” But does that guarantee defeat for the Democrats? Historically, Republicans had some pretty bruising primaries in 1980, 1988, 2000 and 2016, and each time prevailed in November. Despite some nasty knock downs, don’t count the Democratic nominee – whomever it may be – out!

"And the Winner is!" - Biden won the South Carolina Primary with 48 percent, to Sanders 20 percent, Tom Steyer 11 percent (and he dropped out after), Buttigieg 8 percent, Warren 7 percent, and Klobuchar 3 percent. Michael Bloomberg was not on the ballot.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He’s a national Political Contributing Writer for the White House Patch at www.Patch.com.

© 2020, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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