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AFP
February 26, 2020

Sanders the target at Democratic presidential debate

World

AFP
February 26, 2020

WASHINGTON: Frontrunner Bernie Sanders will be in the firing line as the other Democratic presidential candidates seek to derail his push for the nomination at a crucial debate in South Carolina on Tuesday.

The Vermont senator is in pole position heading into South Carolina´s primary on Saturday and the debate could offer the final opportunity for Joe Biden and the other Democratic hopefuls to halt his momentum.

The 78-year-old Sanders emerged largely unscathed from the last debate and went on to win the Nevada caucuses but he is expected to come under fire this time from all directions.

Besides claiming that Sanders is too left-wing to defeat Donald Trump, the other candidates are expected to attack him over his praise of some aspects of communist rule in countries such as Cuba. Sanders finished in a virtual tie with former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg in the first nominating contest, in Iowa, and then went on to win in New Hampshire and Nevada.

Seven candidates will take part in the debate beginning at 8:00 pm (0100 GMT Wednesday) in Charleston, South Carolina, the 10th debate of the campaign cycle.

Besides Sanders, Biden and Buttigieg, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, media magnate Michael Bloomberg and fellow billionaire Tom Steyer will also be on the stage. Bloomberg, 78, will be looking to rebound from his disastrous performance in his first debate and prove that he is a credible, moderate alternative to the leftist Sanders.

Biden, 77, has also been staking out the centre and will be hoping to bounce back from his dismal performance in Iowa and New Hampshire, where he finished fourth and fifth respectively.

The former vice president came in second in the Nevada caucuses, but with 20.2 percent, he was well behind Sanders´ 46.8 percent. Biden has been counting on his strong support among African-American voters in South Carolina to recharge his flagging campaign.

But Sanders has been surging in the polls in the southern state in recent weeks and Biden´s lead there has dwindled to single digits.

A Sanders victory in South Carolina, or even a close second, could set him up for a knockout blow on "Super Tuesday" on March 3, when 14 states go to the polls. Some Democrats argue that Sanders, a self-avowed "democratic socialist," is too far to the left for many Americans and would be a weak opponent against Trump in November.

That is a line of attack which the 38-year-old centrist Buttigieg employed in the last debate, during which he called Sanders "polarizing."

Sanders clearly believes he is more in touch with the sentiments of Democratic voters than his rivals. "I know if you look at the media, they say, ´Bernie´s ideas are radical and they´re extreme, they´re out of the mainstream,´" he said at a CNN town hall in Charleston on Monday night. "Let me just tell you, I don´t think that that´s true."

"Is raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour a radical idea?" he asked the audience. "Is guaranteeing health care to all people as a human right a radical idea? Is addressing the existential threat of climate change a radical idea?"

Sanders´ questions were met with chants of ´No´ from the crowd, leading him to say, "I rest my case." Sanders also defended remarks he made about Cuba´s late leader Fidel Castro which came under attack from the Biden campaign.

"I have been extremely consistent and critical of all authoritarian regimes all over the world, including Cuba, including Nicaragua, including Saudi Arabia, including China, including Russia," Sanders said.

At the same time, Castro "initiated a major literacy program," he said. "I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing."

Reacting on Monday to earlier similar comments Sanders made about Castro, the Biden campaign released one of its strongest attacks yet on the Democratic frontrunner. It said Sanders´s remarks were "part of a larger pattern throughout his life to embrace autocratic leaders and governments across the globe." "He seems to have found more inspiration in the Soviets, Sandinistas, Chavistas, and Castro than in America," it said.