Democratic presidential candidate former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at a campaign stop in Arlington, Va., Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The Latest: Buttigieg's first attack ad targets Sanders

February 24, 2020 - 12:57 pm

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — The Latest on the 2020 Democratic primary contest (all times local):

12:45 p.m.

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is airing his first attack ad of the 2020 campaign, one where he directly criticizes front-runner Bernie Sanders.

In the ad, Buttigieg uses Sanders’ call for a government-financed, single-payer health care system to point to what he describes as his “polarization.”

The ad begins airing Monday in South Carolina, which holds its primary on Saturday.

Buttigieg has been increasingly sharp in his criticism of Sanders, since seeing him first as a top rival in the lead-off Iowa caucuses, then after finishing a close second place to the Vermont senator in the New Hampshire primary.

Among other things, Buttigieg has suggested that Sanders has done little to call for an end to the sometimes combative dialogue of his supporters on social media.

12 p.m.

Nevada’s Democratic Party says about 100,000 people participated in that state’s 2020 caucuses.

That’s close to the same turnout rate as for the 2016 contest that pitted Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders against Hillary Clinton. In 2016, 88,000 Democrats participated, but there are now more Democrats in Nevada than there were four years ago so the percentage of Democrats participating is roughly the same.

Sanders lost the 2016 Nevada caucus but he easily won this cycle, which concluded Saturday. Still, Nevada makes the third contest in a row where voter participation hasn’t budged much from its rate during the 2016 Democratic primary. That’s a bad sign for Sanders’ argument that he can expand the electorate against President Donald Trump.

Of those participating, 75% chose to vote early. That means they cast their preference cards before Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s strong debate performance Wednesday night. Warren finished fourth in the caucuses.

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11:40 a.m.

Mike Bloomberg’s campaign stepped up its criticisms of Bernie Sanders on Monday by highlighting his past votes on gun policy, in a likely preview of Bloomberg’s debate messaging.

The campaign put out a Twitter video highlighting that the NRA endorsed Sanders in his 1990 race for Congress and that Sanders voted in the 1990s against measures to expand background checks and that he supported a law in the mid-2000s that protected gun manufacturers from being sued in certain cases.

“#NotMeNRA,” Bloomberg tweeted, co-opting Sanders’ campaign slogan of “Not Me, Us.”

Dan Kanninen, Bloomberg’s states director, called Sanders’ record on guns “disqualifying,” in a call with reporters. Bloomberg has invested heavily in gun control efforts through the groups Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Everytown for Gun Safety.

The remarks are one piece of a larger warning about Democrats choosing Sanders as the nominee to go against Donald Trump, a move Kanninen said would be a “fatal error.” He alleged both Trump and “the Russians” want Sanders as the party’s nominee.

The Bloomberg campaign may be hoping that renewed attention on Sanders in Tuesday’s debate removes some of the heat from Bloomberg, who had a shaky and uneven performance in his debate debut last week. Bloomberg asked CNN to move a town hall that was scheduled for Monday to the day after the debate so that he could spend more time preparing. Kanninen said he expects a stronger showing Tuesday.

“We’re looking forward to a debate tomorrow with a Mike who comes out with some confidence having one under his belt,” he said.

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10:45 a.m.

Former Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada is defending the vote count in his state's caucus.

Reid responded Monday after a request by the campaign of former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg that questioned the vote count by the Nevada Democratic Party. Buttigieg is fighting former Vice President Joe Biden for second place in the caucuses that were easily won by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Reid said that “baseless claims of irregularities or other attempts to muddy results are an insult to both our hardworking party workers and the record numbers of voters who turned out to make their voices heard.”

He called the caucuses “a tremendous success.” On Sunday, Reid said Nevada should replace Iowa as the first state in the nation to pick a presidential nominee. He also called for the Democratic Party to end all caucuses.

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10:10 a.m.

Democrat Tom Steyer is suggesting front-runner Bernie Sanders is unable to adequately represent or unify the entire Democratic Party.

Steyer told more than 100 people gathered at a Monday breakfast gathering on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, that he loves the diversity of the Democratic Party but that unity is the only way to defeat President Donald Trump in November.

He warned that “we can't nominate somebody who is going to divide us” and "who is not bringing all the Democrats."

Steyer joins the chorus of more moderate Democratic candidates taking on Sanders, who has had successes in the early voting states ahead of South Carolina's Saturday primary. Former Vice President Joe Biden has long topped candidates in the state, but the race has tightened in recent months, in part due to Steyer's efforts to draw black voter support that has long been Biden's stronghold.

At Monday's event, Steyer told a man in the audience that he is “more progressive than Bernie Sanders” in many areas. He said he gets along with Sanders personally and admires some of his positions but often disagrees with how to get there. Steyer says he does not favor “Medicare for All,” the single-payer, government-run health care system that's the centerpiece of Sanders' campaign.

Steyer says he doesn't want to "burn down the medical system of the United States.”

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7:51 a.m.

Billionaire Tom Steyer‘s wife is now chair of his presidential campaign.

Steyer told supporters during an event Sunday night in Yemasse, South Carolina, that his wife, Kat Taylor, had taken the helm of his campaign.

Taylor stepped down from her bank position and rented a home in Columbia, South Carolina, earlier this month to give her an East Coast base of operations as she stepped up her role her husband’s campaign.

Steyer has focused his efforts primarily on Nevada and South Carolina, which holds its primary on Saturday.

The climate activist has spent heavily in the South Carolina, building a massive ground game operation, hiring prominent lawmakers as advisers and garnering support as former Vice President Joe Biden‘s lead tightens. The field participates in a debate Tuesday night in Charleston. 

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