The final Democratic presidential debate before Saturday's South Carolina primary, Super Tuesday next week and primaries on March 10, will be Tuesday night. It will be the final chance for Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, former mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, and billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer to directly contrast their campaigns before voters in 21 states cast their ballots.
Here are five things to watch for.
How hard are they coming for Sanders?
After Sanders' decisive win in the Nevada caucuses, he is seen as the clear front runner. Entrance and polls in Nevada showed Sanders' base has opened up to a more diverse coalition, something his critics claimed he could not do.
The candidates will directly challenge him all night. Likely to come up are attacks on Sanders' Medicare For All health plan, his refusal to release more medical records following his heart attack last October, and his recent comment praising the literacy program Fidel Castro enacted in Cuba that has drawn criticism.
But how much they focus on him versus trying to pick off the other moderates remains to be seen.
Polls in recent days show Sanders is within striking distance of Biden to win South Carolina's primary on Saturday. Biden has called the Palmetto state his firewall. A fivethirtyeight.com analysis of polls also predicts Sanders will win the majority of delegates in 12 of the 14 states on Super Tuesday including California and Texas, and may even overtake Klobuchar in her home state of Minnesota.
Will Bloomberg have a better debate?
The widespread analysis last week was that Bloomberg had a terrible debate, particularly the first hour when Warren hit him time and again on several issues from his time as both a businessman and the mayor of New York City. Some suggested Bloomberg was unprepared.
Politico reports Bloomberg and his team spent Monday preparing for the debate with two goals in mind: Take down Sanders while still avoiding attacks against himself.
Who will take more of Warren's fire: Sanders or Bloomberg?
Warren was praised for her hard-hitting attacks on Bloomberg within seconds of the start of last week's debate. Her performance in the highest-rated Democratic debate in history is credited with giving her a campaign donation boost. But Warren also knows she has to make inroads by cutting into Sanders' support.
The question is, will she focus her fire more on Bloomberg in hopes of bringing some of his support to her, or hit Sanders in hopes of bringing him back to the pack?
Do or die for Biden?
As mentioned earlier, Biden has called South Carolina his firewall in the past. He's boasted a lot of support among African Americans since he entered the race, but recent polls show that lead has fallen dramatically. If there was going to ever be a night to put up his best debate performance, this is it.
How will Buttigieg and Klobuchar reach out to voters of color?
Buttigieg and Klobuchar finished third and sixth, respectively, in Nevada. Early entrance polls showed Buttigieg had 2% support among African Americans in Nevada while Klobuchar had 3%, according to Vox.
A CBS News/YouGov poll released Sunday showed that among African American likely Democratic voters in South Carolina, Buttigieg has 15% support. Klobuchar has 9%.
More than 1/4 of South Carolina's population is black, according to U.S. Census figures.
Will the moderators ask these two questions?
For those trying to cut into Sanders' path toward a potential nomination, there are two schools of thought:
- Moderates need to drop out and coalesce around one candidate to make it a one-on-one match-up.
- Everyone stay in until the convention and hope that Sanders does not obtain a majority of the delegates, giving him the automatic nomination.
Watch to see if the moderators will ask if any of the candidates will drop out before Super Tuesday if they have a bad night in South Carolina. The Associated Press reports there is little indication this will happen based on what the campaigns have said.
Also, see if there is a repeat of the question that was asked in the debate last week in which the candidates were asked if the person with the most delegates, regardless if they have secured a clear majority, should be the nominee. Sanders said yes to that question. All the others said the convention process should play itself out.