Rivals pile on Bernie Sanders in South Carolina debate

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Bernie Sanders during the Democratic presidential primary debate on Feb. 25, 2020, in Charleston, S.C.. Copyright Patrick Semansky AP
By Alex Seitz-Wald with NBC News Politics
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The Democratic face off in Charleston comes just days ahead of the state's primary and Super Tuesday on March 3.

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — Bernie Sanders is winning the Democratic presidential primary race — and that means he won some time as the focus of attacks at Tuesday night's debate here.

Nearly every other major candidate took a swing at the Vermont senator within the first minutes of the face off, hitting Sanders on everything from guns to socialism. Even his progressive ally, Elizabeth Warren, got in on the pile-on.

"I'm hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight. I wonder why!" Sanders said.

Sanders performed well in all three of the first primary states and has been climbing here ahead of Saturday's primary, which comes just days before Super Tuesday.

"Bernie and I agree with a lot of things, but I think I would be a better president than Bernie," Warren said, arguing she could be more effective than him and suggested he and his supporters are too rigid to get much done.

She pointed to Medicare for All, which they both support, but noted her plan to do it was more detailed. "I dug in and did the work, and then Bernie's team trashed me for it," she said.

Joe Biden, meanwhile, noted that "right now we're within walking distance of Mother Emanuel AME Church," where a white supremacist shot and killed nine black parishioners in 2015.

"Bernie voted five times against the Brady Bill and wanted a waiting period of 12 hours," Biden said. "In addition, he wanted to primary Barack Obama."

"Progressive is about getting things done, and that's what I've done," Biden said. "Bernie hasn't passed much of anything."

Mike Bloomberg, meanwhile, accused Sanders of being supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin, referring to reports that the Russian government is boosting Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary.

Sanders rejected that, saying he, as president, would make sure that Put never interfered in another American election.

Pete Buttigieg jumped into that issue, arguing that Moscow wants chaos and is trying to Democratic Party by boosting Sanders.

"Imagine spending the better part of 2020 with Bernie Sanders vs. Donald Trump," Buttigieg said.

Even Tom Steyer, the California billionaire who returned to the debate stage Tuesday by investing in South Carolina and climbing in the polls, got in on the fight.

"Bernie Sanders' analysis is right," Steyer said, before adding Sanders' solutions were wrong.

"I don't think a government takeover of the economy is good," Sanders said.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said, "It matters if you can actually get things done."

"I like Bernie...but I don't think this is the best person to lead the ticket," she said.

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