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Where things stand in the race
Tonight’s debate in Charleston, S.C., is not only the Democratic presidential candidates’ last chance to make a splash on the national stage before South Carolina’s primary on Saturday. The debate could have immediate consequences for six of the seven candidates onstage, since it comes just four days before the primary.
But tonight’s showdown might be an even more critical test for the one candidate who won’t be on the ballot in South Carolina. That’s the billionaire former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who’s spoiling for a rematch after his dismal performance at last week’s debate, when he could hardly defend himself from his rivals’ unrelenting attacks — on issues like his expansion of stop-and-frisk policing and his (recent) history of donating to some Republican campaigns.
Most of the race’s focus this week has turned to Bernie Sanders after his strong performances in all three of the earliest nominating contests. So it’s possible Bloomberg will have some competition for the distinction of “most-attacked candidate” at tonight’s forum.
Here is a guide to the key political dynamics among the candidates in tonight’s debate. Join us on nytimes.com beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern time for a live chat with our reporters.
This will be the last debate until after Super Tuesday — a week from today — when 14 states will hold primaries. With an uncommonly crowded field of formidable candidates, it’s possible that as many as half a dozen candidates could take at least one state on March 3. That would only add to the feeling that this race may continue into the spring (and maybe even into the convention) without a presumptive nominee. It is also likely to add to fears among the Democratic establishment that Sanders could roll to the nomination while his rivals tussle over the moderate vote.
An NBC News/Marist College poll of South Carolina released on Monday echoes what others have recently shown, and what the reports on the ground there seem to suggest: Joe Biden still has the edge, but he’s now in nail-biting territory. The poll gave Biden 27 percent support among likely Democratic primary voters, compared with 23 percent for Sanders and 15 percent for Tom Steyer. Biden commands 35 percent of likely black voters, according to the poll — far from his once-imposing lead in that demographic — while 20 percent plan to support Sanders and 19 percent are for Steyer.
Things to look out for on the debate stage: Will Biden go on offense — as he did in earnest for the first time last week in Las Vegas — and continue with the more pugilistic tone he’s adopted over the past few weeks as he seeks to reclaim his campaign’s onetime appearance of strength? Or will he seek to portray himself as unruffled and in command, looking ahead to the state he has always viewed as a firewall? One thing’s for sure: Expect even more references than usual to his years in President Barack Obama’s administration.
Can Elizabeth Warren repeat her performance from last week’s debate, where she was widely seen as the winner, thanks in particular to her heated exchanges with Bloomberg? Or, even better, can she mount an affirmative argument that sticks about her own platform, which emphasizes bold and specific plans, but has yet to catch on? Without a surge in South Carolina, Warren — a onetime front-runner — will enter Super Tuesday without having finished in the top three in any contest.
And will Sanders, who has increased his share of the black vote without seeking it as explicitly as Biden, make any direct nods to black voters? Look for him to make reference to a $1.5 trillion plan to provide child care to all American parents that he just announced this week.
In case you needed any more evidence to convince you that caucuses, when openly examined, are a heck of a messy process … here you have it. A New York Times analysis found math errors in at least 9 percent of precincts in Nevada’s Democratic caucuses; delegates had sometimes been allotted to the wrong candidates. Given the wide margin of Sanders’s victory there, and the fact that the vote totals weren’t terribly close between any of the major candidates, this hasn’t turned into the fiasco that Iowa was. But that doesn’t mean the process was sound.
If House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is shaken up over Sanders’s recent surge to the top of the polls, she’s not showing it. After an event in her San Francisco district, she said, “Let’s get through the prospects of the election,” according to The Washington Post. “I love the people participating — the people’s choice,” she added. “We will see how that goes, and we will go from there.”
Bloomberg’s campaign advertising budget has officially broken the half-billion-dollar mark. The ad-monitoring firm Advertising Analytics reported on Monday that in just three months of campaigning, he has spent close to $510 million on TV and online ads. That’s already about a third of the total amount spent — on everything — by all of the 2016 presidential campaigns combined. If Bloomberg bombs again in tonight’s debate but is able to command at least respectable support on Super Tuesday, it will be clear evidence that buying TV ads alone can at least get a candidate somewhere. (As it stands, he is already in the mid-teens in many national polls.)
Photo of the day
Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., was rushed out of an appearance at a McDonald’s workers’ strike by protesters in Charleston, S.C., on Monday. The workers were calling for a $15 per hour minimum wage. The protesters chanted, “Pete can’t be our president! Where was 15 in South Bend!”
Of Russia bots, Bernie bros and demands for sanctions.
A group of Senate Democrats on Monday urged the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Russia in response to new reports that the foreign power is again working to influence the presidential election.
Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, joined two other Democratic senators in writing a letter to Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, and Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary. In it they asked the administration to “immediately and forcefully impose sanctions” on Russia.
“We urge you to immediately draw upon the reported conclusions of the Intelligence Community to identify and target for sanctions all those determined to be responsible for ongoing elections interference, including President Putin, the government of the Russian Federation, any Russian actors determined to be directly responsible, and those acting on their behalf or providing material or financial support for their efforts,” the senators wrote.
Intelligence officials said last week that they had evidence Russia was seeking to interfere with the election, and that it had specifically sought to bolster the Sanders campaign. An official was said to have said the Russians were also working to assist President Trump, though that statement was later disputed by national security officials.
Sanders was briefed on the situation a month ago, and on Friday, he denounced the Russian government’s actions. “I say to Mr. Putin: ‘If elected president, trust me, you are not going to be interfering in American elections,’” he said at an appearance in California.
Clyburn’s endorsement expected — and not a moment too soon for Biden.
Biden could use a last-minute jolt of momentum heading into Saturday’s South Carolina primary. And it looks as if he’s about to get one, in the form of an endorsement by James Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat in the House.
Clyburn doesn’t plan to formally announce his endorsement until Wednesday, the day after the debate, but Democratic officials familiar with his planning say he intends to endorse Biden.
Clyburn represents the largely black precincts in and near Columbia and Charleston, and he is considered the most powerful Democrat in the state. Here’s our national political correspondent Jonathan Martin, with his breakdown of what the news will mean for Biden:
Clyburn’s support could not come at a better time for Biden. Not only is the former vice president under immense pressure to win South Carolina, a state he has long portrayed as his firewall, but he must also demonstrate to the other Democrats in the race that he is the preferred candidate of African-American voters. Clyburn’s endorsement could help on both fronts, helping to hand Biden a much-needed victory before Super Tuesday that would come in part thanks to the support of South Carolina’s black voters. Over half of the primary electorate on Saturday is expected to be African-American, and if Biden performs well with such voters it could bode well for his chances in other Southern states voting on Super Tuesday: Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas.
Buttigieg tries to fight for $15, but gets a fight over his record instead.
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Pete Buttigieg joined scores of workers in Charleston on Monday who were demanding a $15 minimum wage and better working conditions, but he was confronted at the protest by a group of black women who said he was not workers’ best choice, and many residents who lived near the protest said they either hadn’t heard of him or favored other candidates.
Buttigieg joined the chanting group of mostly black protesters as they moved toward a local McDonald’s where some of them worked, and he helped to hold a large banner that read, “Unions for All.” But as the group marched through the McDonald’s drive-thru, about a dozen black women confronted Buttigieg, saying that he had not done enough for workers as the mayor of South Bend, Ind.
“Pete can’t be our president. Where was $15 in South Bend?” chanted the women, who were members of the Black Youth Project 100, a national group that supports progressive candidates and whose members came to Charleston to advocate for a higher minimum wage.
Buttigieg responded only as he hustled to his black S.U.V. Jamecia Gray, one of the Black Youth Project organizers, said he told her as he left that he supports raising the federal minimum wage to $15, including for disabled workers and those who work for tips.
“He’s flipped on that issue more than once, and what I want and what our people want is for him to create white pages and real policies to really change the structural barriers to hold corporations like McDonald’s accountable so every American person can live in this country,” said Gray, who traveled from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
An adviser for Buttigieg noted that Indiana was one of several states that prohibits local governments from enacting their own minimum wage, and that Buttigieg had raised the minimum pay of city employees to $10.10 per hour from $7.25.
A block away from where Buttigieg joined the protest, all but one of a dozen residents of Charleston public housing said in interviews that they had not heard of Buttigieg or were not interested in his campaign. Most of the residents interviewed, all of whom were black, said they supported Sanders, who is hoping that a strong showing in South Carolina could push Biden out of the race. A couple residents also mentioned Steyer, Biden and Warren as favorites.
Lashenda Floyd, 41, said criminal justice was foremost on her mind after her 18-year-old son was killed in North Charleston last year during his senior year of high school. She wants stronger sentences for murderers and lower sentences for drug crimes, and said she planned to vote for Sanders because of his criminal justice platform and because she hopes he will build more affordable housing.
“They are giving people who murder people 10 or 13 or 15 years, and people who are selling drugs 45 years for selling drugs,” Floyd said as she sat in a white Volkswagen outside of the apartments, chatting with friends. “They’ve got that backwards. I’m mad. The law is messed up.”