In Round 10, Sanders finally gets treated like the front-runner

Image: Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate at the Gaillard Center, on Feb. 25, 2020, in Charleston, S.C. Copyright Patrick Semansky AP
Copyright Patrick Semansky AP
By Chuck Todd and Mark Murray and Carrie Dann with NBC News Politics
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.


WASHINGTON — Well, Bernie Sanders finally got the front-runner treatment at last night's Democratic debate in Charleston, S.C.

He took incoming from Pete Buttigieg: "If you think the last four years has been chaotic, divisive, toxic, exhausting, imagine spending the better part of 2020 with Bernie Sanders vs. Donald Trump."

Joe Biden didn't hold back, either, saying, "Bernie voted five times against the Brady Bill" and "he said we should primary Barack Obama."

Michael Bloomberg leaned hard into the Russia angle: "Vladimir Putin thinks that Donald Trump should be president of the United States. And that's why Russia is helping you get elected, so you will lose to him."

Elizabeth Warren even made her most pointed debate attack yet on Sanders (though it still wasn't as forceful as the way she tried to fillet Bloomberg): "We need a president who is going to dig in, do the hard work, and actually get it done. Progressives have got one shot. And we need to spend it with a leader who will get something done."

And that was all in just the first few minutes of what was easily the angriest and most combative Democratic debate yet.

As a whole, the debate was a negative for the Democratic Party — the shouting, the interrupting, the constant hand-raising, the bickering with moderators.

The question we have — just three days before South Carolina's primary and six days before Super Tuesday — is whether the Sanders pile-on worked to stop his momentum.

Or whether it was too late.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 33


That's the number of times that Democratic candidates on stage at the debate last night attacked Bernie Sanders, according to an NBC News debate tracker.

And it's nearly double the amount of incoming attacks experienced by any other candidate. The candidate under fire the most often after Sanders was Michael Bloomberg, who took at least 17 rhetorical hits, according to the tracker.

Trump to hold news conference on the coronavirus

At publication time this morning, President Trump tweeted that he will be holding a news conference at 6:00 p.m. ET on the coronavirus.

It comes after the Dow has dropped nearly 2,000 points in two days on world-wide concerns about the virus.

And it comes after the Trump administration has sent mixed messages — with Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow saying the coronavirus has been contained, versus the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's top official on respiratory illnesses telling the public to be prepared for it to spread inside the United States.

2020 Vision: Clyburn makes his endorsement

Today is the day that House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., makes his presidential endorsement.

NBC's Craig Melvin has already reported that Clyburn will endorse Biden.

Politico has more: "The planned endorsement is expected three days ahead of the state's Saturday primary, giving Biden an important boost in a state that will likely determine the fate of his candidacy. Clyburn, the highest ranking African American in Congress, has long been close with Biden and has been open about his affinity for the former vice president during the Democratic primary."


On the campaign trail today

Almost of the activity is in South Carolina after last night's debate: The major candidates start their morning attending a breakfast with Al Sharpton… Joe Biden stumps in North Charleston, Georgetown and Charleston… Bernie Sanders hits Charleston, Myrtle Beach (where he holds a rally) and Goldsboro… Pete Buttigieg heads to Florida after his event with Al Sharpton… Amy Klobuchar spends her day in Charleston and does a CNN town hall in the evening… Tom Steyer is in Georgetown and Myrtle Beach… And Mike Bloomberg holds a CNN town hall in Charleston.

Dispatches from NBC's campaign reporters

MSNBC Road Warrior Ali Vitali spoke with Elizabeth Warren after the debate about why she finally felt comfortable going after Bernie Sanders on stage:

Vitali: "You said it tonight that you'd think you'd make a better president than Bernie Sanders, why did it take you so long to make such an explicit comment?"

Warren: "Look, I think that tonight there were a lot of attacks about the kind of country we are and the kind of nominee we need. And I saw two things tonight and wanted to make this point, the first is our party is a progressive party and progressive ideas are popular. That means we can't have a nominee who's on that stage who's nibbling around the edges of big problems. But the second part of it is we not only need a nominee who has unshakeable values, we need someone who actually can get something done. And I have a track record for doing that. Look at it this way, progressives are going to have one chance to make transformative change and that means we better have a leader who knows how to make it happen."

The Lid: Back to the future

Don't miss the pod from yesterday, when we asked what you might think if a mysterious soothsayer had told you the current state of the 2020 race exactly one year ago.


ICYMI: News clips you shouldn't miss

Intelligence officials are worried that their analysis on Russian election interference is being weaponized by both parties, writes NBC's Ken Dilanian.

NBC's Sahil Kapur offers a look at how each of the 2020 candidates performed in last night's debate. (And if you missed the debate, you can watch the highlights in five minutes here.)

Even though Sanders took the most incoming attacks, it's an open question whether any of them stuck.

What's the deal with getting tickets to a Democratic debate?

Bloomberg improved on his first debate performance, but it may not be enough to change his trajectory.


Things are getting pretty testy over the administration's handling of the coronavirus response.

Trump Agenda: Barr talk

Senate Republicans are speaking up for Bill Barr.

Trump and some of his administration officials don't seem to be on the same page when it comes to the coronavirus threat.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the family of a Mexican teenager slain by an American border agent can't sue him through the U.S. court system.

2020: Will Sanders beat Warren in her own backyard?

Bernie Sanders is hoping to win in Elizabeth Warren's home state.


Warren brought up an allegation about Michael Bloomberg and a comment about abortion last night on the debate stage.

Bloomberg's longtime partner said those worried about his past history with NDAs should "get over it."

Pete Buttigieg is out with a new plan for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

And here's what his campaign is saying about his plan for Super Tuesday and beyond.

Young voters in South Carolina have change on their minds.

Share this articleComments

You might also like

Why Trump's base is stronger than Bernie's ǀ View