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Bernie Sanders, who has been mostly spared attacks by his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, paid the price of being the frontrunner Tuesday night in the debate in South Carolina, which holds its primary election on Saturday.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg kicked off the flurry of attacks by referencing a finding from U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was seeking to aid Sanders’s candidacy in the primary election.
“Vladimir Putin thinks that Donald Trump should be president of the United States and that’s why Russia is helping you, so you’ll lose to him,” Bloomberg said.
Sanders responded by addressing the Russian leader. “Hey Mr. Putin, if I am president of the United States, trust me, you’re not going to interfere in any more American elections,” Sen. Sanders said.
Next up was Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who, after conceding that Sanders was leading the race, said, “I think I would make a better president than Bernie.”
The reason, she explained, was that “getting a progressive agenda enacted” would be difficult, and would take someone like herself, “who digs into the details to make it happen.”
She also criticized Sanders’s health care plan, saying it was short on details and “doesn’t show enough how we’re going to pay for it.”
Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg said the nation was tired of the “divisive” and “toxic” political landscape created by the Trump administration and invited viewers to imagine what the presidential campaign would look like if Sanders, boosted by the Russian government, won the Democratic nomination.
“Imagine spending the better part of 2020 with Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump. Think about what that would be like for this country,” Buttigieg said.
Like Warren, billionaire activist Tom Steyer contrasted himself with Sanders in terms of solutions rather than ideology.
“Bernie Sanders’s analysis is right. The difference is I don’t like his solutions. I don’t believe that a government takeover of large parts of the economy makes any sense for working people or for families,” Steyer said referencing Sanders’s Medicare for All proposal.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who polls show leading the field in South Carolina, took issue with Sanders’s record on gun control.
“Bernie voted five times against the Brady Bill,” Biden said, noting the bill’s waiting period provision on new firearm purchases were crucial to prevent mass shootings.
Sanders seemed to anticipate the attention.
“I’m hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight,” Sanders said. “I wonder why.”
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