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Democrat rivals to take aim at Sanders in key South Carolina debate

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during First in the South Dinner, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Charleston, S.C.
Image Credit: (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
February 25, 2020 - 9:30 AM

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Hard-charging Bernie Sanders might want to wear a helmet when he takes the stage tonight for the Democratic debate in South Carolina.

The Vermont senator, the clear front-runner in the race to challenge Donald Trump for the White House, has largely avoided being at the bottom of the primary pile-on — until now.

It's critical for rivals to slow the Sanders roll: South Carolina is a must-win for former vice-president Joe Biden, while senators Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren are running low on money and are desperate to show signs of life in Saturday's vote before next week's key Super Tuesday primaries.

Meanwhile, businessman Tom Steyer has been coming on strong in the Palmetto State, while Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., needs to show he can garner support from black voters, who comprise nearly two-thirds of the state's Democratic voters.

And then there's Mike Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who's not on the ballot until Tuesday but will be on the stage tonight, looking to redeem himself after a dismal debate performance in Nevada.

Sanders, an independent, self-styled "democratic socialist" who conjures fear in the party establishment in much the same way Trump once did among Republicans, also seems to have supporters in Canada: he led a recent online survey by the Angus Reid Institute with the backing of 28 per cent of respondents.

"It is a little bit funny to find myself as the so-called front-runner," Sanders told a CNN town hall event Monday.

"We are going to enter this debate with the full knowledge that tens of millions of Americans want fundamental change in terms of what is going on in this country. They are tired of a president who is a pathological liar, who is running a corrupt administration, who is a racist and a sexist, and a homophobe, and a xenophobe."

Sanders often invokes Canada in his public comments, especially when talking about his signature "Medicare For All" policy plank.

"Somehow they manage to guarantee health care for every man, woman, and child in that country at half the cost that we spend per capita," he said. "Is guaranteeing health care to all people as a human right a radical idea?"

But he's sure to face attacks on multiple fronts, including how he plans to pay for big-ticket promises like Medicare For All, free college tuition and forgiven student debt; reports that he considered a primary challenge against Barack Obama in 2012; and a recent interview in which he praised a Cuban "literacy program" launched by Fidel Castro in the early 1960s.

"There was a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate. And he formed a literacy brigade ... he went out and they helped people learn to read and write," Sanders said.

"You know what? I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2020.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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