Seven candidates will go head-to-head for the last time tonight before the South Carolina primary in the race’s last showdown until the nationwide contests on Super Tuesday, March 3.
CBS will host the debate with the Congressional Black Caucus Institute in Charleston, South Carolina and air live from 8 p.m. eastern to 10 p.m. on CBS, BET, and Twitter. Viewers can also livestream the debate on CBS’s mobile streaming service.
Moderating the two-hour primetime event will be “CBS Evening News” anchor and managing editor Norah O’Donnell, and “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King. The two CBS moderators will be joined by “Face the Nation” host and senior foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Brennan, chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett, and “60 Minutes” correspondent Bill Whitaker.
To qualify, candidates must have reached 12 percent support or higher in two South Carolina polls or 10 percent in a combination of four surveys in South Carolina or nationwide. The Democratic National Committee only counted polls conducted between Feb. 4 and Feb. 24, after the Iowa caucuses. Candidates could also earn their place on stage by earning at least one delegate in Iowa, New Hampshire, or Nevada.
Here are the candidates who will appear on stage in order of who’s on top in the Palmetto State according to RealClearPolitics’ latest aggregate of polls:
- Former Vice President Joe Biden (26.8 percent)
- Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (21.7 percent)
- Billionaire Tom Steyer (14.7 percent)
- Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (9.8 percent)
- Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (9.0 percent)
- Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (5.7 percent)
- Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Not on ballot)
Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is the only Democrat candidate who remains in the race who will not be debating in Charleston tonight.
Desperation has kicked in for the candidates to raise enough money to remain competitive in subsequent stages of the primary. As Bloomberg continues to flood the airwaves with endless ads due to his virtually unlimited resources, the rest of the field has struggled to maintain a steady cash flow to keep their campaigns afloat, with the exception of Sanders whose frontrunner status has provided a steady stream of donor revenue.
Meanwhile, Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar are attempting to run a nationwide race with relatively little money. According to campaign finance disclosures filed late last week, Sanders is the only non-billionaire candidate with more than $17 million in the campaign war chest. Biden was next, with $7.1 million, followed by Buttigieg with $6.6 million, Klobuchar with $2.9 million, and Warren with just $2.3 million.
The situation has become so dire for Warren that the Massachusetts senator reversed course Thursday on her pledge to reject money from large political action committees dubbed “Super PACs” by readily accepting help from one that dropped $800,000 in ads promoting her candidacy in Nevada.
“If all the candidates want to get rid of super PACs, count me in. I’ll lead the charge. But that’s how it has to be,” Warren said. “It can’t be the case that a bunch of people keep them and only one or two don’t.”
In Charleston, Warren needs a repeat of last week’s debate. There, the senator’s strong performance brought in more than $5 million in the hours following the Las Vegas event, according to the campaign. Other candidates will need to do the same a distinguish themselves to attract the critical donor dollars that come with a strong on-stage performance.
Wednesday night’s event drew an estimated 19 million viewers with Bloomberg’s debut. The candidates also launched attacks at each other, making for the most explosive debate yet. More fireworks are expected tonight in South Carolina as the candidates seek to halt Sanders’s seemingly unstoppable momentum and bring in increasingly scarce campaign cash.
Last week, Bloomberg suffered the worst blows from the candidates jumping at their first opportunity to slam the New York billionaire in primetime. Bloomberg was criticized as an out-of-touch New York elite who championed the controversial policing policy of stop-and-frisk and until recently hadn’t run as a Democrat. Warren also hammered Bloomberg on allegations of sexual harassment and sex discrimination in the workplace.
Sanders is expected to take considerable heat in Charleston following a blow-out win in Nevada marking the Vermont senator’s third straight win of a primary that has, to date, only seen three contests so far. While Sanders technically lost the delegate count in the Iowa caucuses earlier this month by a razor-thin margin, he comfortably took the popular vote there by more than 6,000 votes.