— The Democratic presidential debate is 8 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. Eastern time. It is being held in Charleston, South Carolina, and hosted by CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute.
— The South Carolina primary, where 54 delegates are at stake, is Saturday.
— Last week’s debate in Las Vegas was the fiercest yet as candidates took more personal swipes at one another. With the addition of Mike Bloomberg, that debate set a TV ratings record.
— Seven Democratic candidates qualified for the debate Tuesday: former Vice President Joe Biden; Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City; former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana; Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont; Tom Steyer, a billionaire businessman; and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
— The moderators are Norah O’Donnell and Gayle King. Margaret Brennan of “Face the Nation,” Major Garrett and Bill Whitaker of “60 Minutes” will join in with questions.
Can Bloomberg recover from last week’s thrashing?
It’s hard to imagine a worse showing for a presidential candidate appearing in his first debate than the one Bloomberg had last week. That’s the good news for him. The bar is relatively low Tuesday night. And inside his campaign, the prevailing view is that despite the weak performance — some aides described him as nervous, restrained, out-of-practice and seriously underwhelming — it was not the fatal blow that his opponents were high-fiving about.
But for Bloomberg to avoid slipping into irrelevance, he needs a breakout debate. Any candidate in his position will try to prove wrong the skeptics and doubters — those who say that Bloomberg, at 78 and a decade into retirement as a politician, no longer has what it takes.
He also will try to prove to the people who support him or are considering him on Super Tuesday — when he will appear on ballots for the first time — that he is what he has been telling them he is. All along, Bloomberg has sold himself as the “un-Trump,” as he calls it — the only person in the race capable of going toe-to-toe with the president. Bloomberg likes to say that he has dealt with “bullies like Donald Trump all my life in New York.” The debate stands as his chance to show voters he can really push back.
This is a make-or-break week for Biden. Can he meet the moment?
For months, Biden, his campaign and his allies have bet that the former vice president will land a resounding victory in the South Carolina primary, powered by strong support from African American voters. But in the final weeks before the contest, Biden’s standing in the state has slipped and he now faces a race that is far more competitive than many of his supporters expected.
He still has many prominent allies in South Carolina, and Rep. James Clyburn, the most influential Democrat in the state, appears poised to endorse him. But he needs to do everything possible to blunt Sanders’ momentum, starting with an energetic debate performance Tuesday night. In a state he once considered his firewall, can he land some effective hits on his chief rival and persuade voters on the fence to stick with him?
Warren needs growth among black voters
One of the many confounding parts of Warren’s candidacy has been her inability to grow support among black and Latino Democrats despite significant investment. She was a nonfactor among Latino voters in Nevada, as Sanders swept to victory, and she needs to improve her low standing among black voters to become a serious contender in this nomination process.
Her campaign has tried to play down the weak results from the Nevada caucuses, saying that too many people voted before her much-lauded debate performance could influence them. However, with another debate and just two days in between the South Carolina primary and the all-important Super Tuesday, where a large number of delegates will be distributed, Warren needs to turn moral victories into actual victories at the ballot box.
Warren has chiefly sought to appeal to black voters with policies that target racial discrimination and injustice. However, with Sanders dominating among younger voters and more moderate candidates appealing to the older crowd, Warren must find a way to break the ideological squeeze that has hurt her candidacy for months.
Sanders gears up for attacks — and maybe to hit back
As a top adviser to Sanders said over the weekend, “There are a lot of knives out for Bernie Sanders.”
After finishing at the top in Iowa, narrowly winning New Hampshire and dominating in Nevada, Sanders has undeniably taken the pole position in the Democratic primary race. His rivals aren’t happy about it. They have already started to knock him much more forcefully than ever before — for his record on gun control, for his political ideology, for his recent praise for aspects of Fidel Castro’s leadership.
But the debate will provide them with a national stage to hammer the senator from Vermont, and it’s a safe bet to say they will use it. Will Sanders be ready?
His campaign hopes so, and he has been actively preparing for such criticism. But he has never been the lone front-runner on a debate stage before, and it will be an unfamiliar test.
Sanders may also do some of his own punching. In recent days he has forcefully gone after Bloomberg, with whom he has traded barbs relentlessly. Each views the other as his biggest threat to the nomination, but they are also each other’s perfect foil. It could get messy out there.