The Democratic presidential debates in South Carolina featured a night of disorganised chaos, as leading candidates once again took the gloves off and fought each other ahead of the state’s crucial vote and Super Tuesday.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, whose team views winning the state on Saturday as fundamental to its survival on the campaign trail, leaned into his record throughout the night and attacked Bernie Sanders for his record on gun control.
Mr Sanders' past support for gun makers to receive certain legal protections “has caused carnage on our streets”, the former vice president said, while issuing a warning to manufacturers of firearms: “I’m coming for you, and I’m taking you down.”
Mr Sanders acknowledged his vote in support of the protections in 2005 “was a bad vote” while noting he has "cast thousands of votes, including bad votes”.
Pete Buttigieg also took on Mr Sanders, saying his position on guns wasn't an old one but "is a current bad position that Bernie Sanders holds”.
The Vermont senator wasn’t the only candidate who faced sharp attacks on Tuesday night. Elizabeth Warren slammed Mr Bloomberg over a news report that he told a female employee to "kill it" when she became pregnant. The former New York City mayor denied the allegations, causing Ms Warren to once again call on the billionaire presidential hopeful to release women accusing him of sexual harassment and discrimination from nondisclosure agreements.
"Never said it, period”, Mr Bloomberg said about the allegations.
He was also forced to apologise for off-colour remarks he was reported to have made to female employees, while declining to address Ms Warren's call that he issue a more wide-ranging blanket release from nondisclosure agreements than the three women he has recently released.
Biden, who is relying heavily on his support among African-American Democratic voters in South Carolina, said he was “looking forward” to putting the first black woman on the US Supreme Court during a closing portion of the debate.
The former vice president, who acknowledged his campaign took a “gut punch” after weak performances in the first-in-the-nation votes, also noted that he aimed to live by the following motto: “When you get knocked down, you get up, and everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity."
The debate was at times particularly disorganised as candidates struggled to talk over each other and moderators failed to control the flow of the conversation.
The crowd cheered at one point as Mr Biden demanded he be allowed to continue speaking, while other moments offered awkward confrontations between him and Amy Klobuchar, who waited for the former vice president to be finished interrupting her before finishing her answer to a question.
Recent controversies over Mr Sanders’ statements about the education programme in Cuba and Mr Bloomberg’s tax returns were also addressed, as both candidates once again went on the defence.
Mr Sanders said it's possible to oppose authoritarianism and still acknowledge good things such governments have done, while Mr Bloomberg said he was working on readying his returns for release "as fast as we can”.
In last week's debate in Las Vegas, Mr Bloomberg said that it takes "a long time" to compile his tax returns because he makes a lot of money and "can't go to TurboTax”.
Mr Bloomberg runs a financial data and media company. He is worth an estimated $60bn.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders)February 26, 2020
All the other contenders on stage have released their tax returns. The other billionaire in the debate, California climate activist Tom Steyer, noted that he had released a decade's worth of tax returns.
The former New York City mayor also opened himself up to attacks when he discussed spending $100m to help Democratic candidates flip US House seats held by Republicans.
He’s admitting he
BOUGHT those seats!
OMG! pic.twitter.com/8TlBRJCLcM— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr)February 26, 2020
He began to say "I bought”, before catching himself and saying "I got them”, noting their elections helped Nancy Pelosi become speaker of the House.
Donald Trump's campaign spokesman and eldest son were among those on Twitter highlighting the flub.
Donald Trump Jr tweeted: "Wow!!! He's admitting he BOUGHT those seats!"
Meanwhile, Bloomberg advertisements were featured during the first two commercial breaks of the debate ahead of Saturday's primary.
The Bloomberg ads highlighted his experience in the business community and as mayor, and they outline some of his key policy proposals. They also featured reporting that claimed Mr Trump was wary of Mr Bloomberg's rise in Democratic polls.
Mr Bloomberg has spent more than $500m of his own money on his presidential campaign in the last three months.
Additional reporting by AP