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

The Latest: Sanders says he's ready for debate attacks

February 24, 2020 - 9:27 pm

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

9:20 p.m.

Bernie Sanders says he’ll be ready for attacks he expects his Democratic presidential rivals to shower on him during the next presidential debate.

The Vermont senator solidified himself as the primary front runner with a decisive win Saturday in Nevada. That will likely make him the center of unflattering attention on the debate stage Tuesday night in South Carolina, which holds its primary this weekend.

Asked during a CNN town hall Monday if he’ll be prepared, Sanders said simply, “Absolutely.”

A self-avowed Democratic socialist, Sanders notes that he spent decades in Congress in the opposition on many key issues, so “it is a little funny to find myself as the so-called front-runner.”

He then pivoted to arguing why he can defeat President Trump in November, adding, “I feel good.”

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8:30 p.m.

Bernie Sanders is asking South Carolina voters not to believe the negative TV ads they’re seeing about his candidacy.

The Vermont senator didn’t mention any of his opponents during remarks to a crowd of hundreds at a Democratic Party dinner in Charleston, South Carolina, on Monday night. But Sanders hit the high points of his standard campaign speeches, adding that he’s hoping the party can work together in the months ahead to defeat President Donald Trump.

More moderate candidates in the field have begun taking on Sanders as his primary and caucus wins boost his emergence as the party’s front-runner.

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8:20 p.m.

Joe Biden is leaning hard into his argument for tighter gun regulations as campaigns on a college campus ahead of South Carolina's Democratic presidential primary Saturday.

Biden says: "Folks, it is a moral crisis we face. Talk about the soul of America. We must, must get this under control."

Biden is also emphasizing his proposals to combat the climate crisis and ease student debt burdens, issues he says matter most to young voters.

Still, Biden's crowd at the College of Charleston leaned much older than the student population. The 77-year-old former vice president gets his strongest support from the oldest slices of the electorate, while seeing his support drop off precipitously among the youngest generation of voters.

6:55 p.m.

Pete Buttigieg is keeping up his criticism of Bernie Sanders as he pitches himself to black voters in South Carolina.

Speaking at a Baptist church banquet hall in North Charleston, Buttigieg says that while he respects Sanders, “the only way to actually achieve our goal — to win, yes, also to govern — is by calling as many people as we can into the room, not by calling people names online.”

That's a swipe at Sanders’ often aggressive online army of supporters.

Buttigieg says that to win and govern in “a country that has been torn apart by broken promises, then we must ensure that the promises we are making are promises that can be kept.” And he says Democrats must choose a candidate who won’t hurt down-ballot Democrats up for re-election.

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6:40 p.m.

Joe Biden has told a group of high-dollar donors that Russians are apparently supporting Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary to help President Donald Trump win re-election.

"They’re promoting him because they think it helps the president," Biden said at the fundraiser at a private residence outside Charleston, South Carolina. "Vladimir Putin doesn’t want me to be the president of the United States."

Biden is also criticizing Sanders for voting against stricter gun regulations over the course of his Senate career. Sanders has since changed his position to support tighter gun laws.

The former vice president isn't explicitly repeating his recent criticisms that Sanders, a democratic socialist, isn't a true Democrat. But he is asking voters to remember why they align with the party. He says, "You're a Democrat because you think everybody should be given a shot."

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6:35 p.m.

Democrat Amy Klobuchar has canceled part of her TV ad buy in South Carolina ahead of the state’s Saturday primary as her campaign shifts resources to states that will vote Super Tuesday.

The ad planning and buying firm Medium Buying reported the cancellation Monday. Klobuchar’s campaign says the Minnesota senator will continue to have a “six-figure” ad buy up in South Carolina through Saturday. The campaign isn't responding to questions about how much ad time has been canceled and in which markets.

Klobuchar has polled poorly in South Carolina. She has been looking ahead to the March 3 contests, when about one-third of delegates will be awarded.

Her campaign manager says she is dedicating $4.2 million to TV and digital ads in the Super Tuesday states.

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4:30 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence says Democratic presidential front-runner Bernie Sanders is "wrong about Cuba."

Pence was asked about Sanders’ “60 Minutes” comments praising the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro for establishing a literacy program.

Pence says, “For Bernie Sanders to tout a literacy program in the midst of the tyranny of Cuba is just truly remarkable.”

The vice president adds that he and President Donald Trump are “going to make this election a choice between freedom and socialism, and I have every confidence the American people will choose freedom once again.”

He says Democrats "are on the verge of nominating as their party’s standard-bearer someone who embraces the economic philosophy that has impoverished nations for generations."

Pence's remarks came Monday during a White House program with the Hoover Institution.

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2:55 p.m.

Pete Buttigieg has been hounded by protesters during a march with McDonald’s workers in Charleston, South Carolina, who are striking for a $15 minimum wage.

The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, had joined the workers, who were organized for Monday's march by the nationwide Fight for $15 movement. He lined up alongside the largely black crowd of red-shirted workers at the front of the march, helping to carry a sign that read “Racial Justice = Economic Justice.”

But when Buttigieg tried to speak to the marchers, he was shouted over by a group of Black Voters Matter protesters chanting, “Pete can’t be our president, where was $15 in South Bend?” The protesters continued until Buttigieg cut his remarks short after just five minutes and started to leave.

But heading to an SUV waiting to drive him away, the former mayor was forced to pick up his pace as a huge gaggle of reporters, cameras and still-chanting protesters came after him. And even as Buttigieg hopped in the car and drove away, protesters continued to chase the car, chanting all the way.

South Carolina, where blacks could make up two thirds of the Democratic primary electorate, holds its primary on Saturday.

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1:30 p.m.

Democratic presidential hopeful Amy Klobuchar is dedicating $4.2 million to run ads in states that will vote in the March 3 Super Tuesday contests, the clearest sign yet that she plans to stay in the race for the nomination.

Klobuchar campaign manager Justin Buoen says in a memo Monday the Minnesota senator is the third-highest vote-getter in the three contests so far, thanks to a third-place finish in the New Hampshire primary. He says Klobuchar remains “a top choice for persuading Republican and independent voters we need in order to beat Donald Trump in the fall” and is “the best person to take on Bernie Sanders.”

Klobuchar finished fifth in the Iowa and Nevada caucuses and is not expected to do well in Saturday’s South Carolina primary.

With Sanders’ commanding win in the Nevada caucuses there have been calls for Klobuchar and other moderate candidates to drop out of the race. Some Democrats fear the more centrist candidates are dividing support and clearing a path for the Vermont senator to win. They say having the self-described democratic socialist atop the ticket in November could hurt more moderate Democrats in House and Senate races.

But Klobuchar said Sunday the question of whether to stay in is “not even a close call for me.”

She’s instead focused on the 14 states that weigh in on Super Tuesday, when about one-third of delegates will be awarded.

Buoen says her “incredibly efficient campaign” has the money to carry on and she plans to continue campaigning in Super Tuesday states, competing in key congressional districts where she can pick up delegates.

Buoen says “we also expect Amy to do well” in her home state of Minnesota, which votes on Super Tuesday.

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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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