Ahead of the busiest, and invariably decisive spell of primary season, the importance of Tuesday’s Democrat debate from South Carolina cannot be overstated. Following his resounding, poll-beating victory in Nevada, Bernie Sanders is even money favourite to win the nomination.
This won’t be the final debate but may very well be the last chance for his rivals to stop him. Expect the gloves to come off. The fact such generous odds are available may reflect the fact punters anticipate a bloodbath.
The last two debates have proved these high-exposure, set-piece events can have a significant impact. After New Hampshire, debate winner Amy Klobuchar stormed past polling expectations into third place. A poor follow-up in Vegas then stopped the ‘Klobucharge’ in its tracks. On the same stage, a concerted take down of Michael Bloomberg may have killed the billionaire’s hopes.
Attacks on Sanders bound to take centre stage
Whilst his rivals will doubtless repeatedly accuse Bloomberg of trying to buy the presidency, there will be less focus on him. The billionaire’s debut meant Sanders was able to escape the worst headlines after Vegas. Criticism of his spending plans and associated risk to the Democrat ticket failed to cut through. Those attacks will be relentless tonight.
In an interesting development, Bloomberg is throwing the kitchen sink at Sanders. Whether it helps him is questionable, but these negative ads do have the potential to hurt the front-runner.
The independent socialist Senator escaped deep scrutiny of his positions, and his past, in 2016. Many Democrats understandably fear the damage, once Republicans bombard voters with footage of him praising Fidel Castro, the Sandanistas and even the Soviet Union. Or stuff like this, bound to alienate large swathes of natural Democrat voters.
Bloomberg, for his part, will doubtless go after Sanders’ record on guns, while emphasising his own progressive credentials on gun control. See these tweets from his chief surrogate.
No candidate has a stronger gun safety record than Bloomberg:
Reduced gun deaths in NYC by 48%
Co-founded Everytown for Gun Safety – the most powerful grassroots force for gun safety
Spent $110M to elect gun sense candidates to Congress in 2018https://t.co/iPg2CDl3kA— Tim O’Brien (@TimOBrien) February 24, 2020
Whilst I doubt this will make Bloomberg any more electable to a left-wing audience, I do believe he can hurt Sanders badly in forthcoming races. African American voters make up a very large chunk of the Democrat primary audience in Southern states. Although polling competitively, his share is in the low twenties and vulnerable to any candidate who can unite the black vote.