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US Democratic debate has all eyes on frontrunner Sanders

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Surging front-runner Bernie Sanders will be in the hot seat at the Democratic debate in South Carolina on Tuesday, when his six presidential rivals try to derail his growing momentum before the next big round of nominating contests.

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The pressure for a strong performance will be high for all of the contenders. Joe Biden, the national front-runner not so long ago, needs to win South Carolina to keep his campaign alive, while Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer are desperately battling for relevance.

It will be the third debate this month, and the 10th overall, for the Democrats vying for the right to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election.

The encounters have grown more contentious as time runs out for the candidates to make their case.

"Sanders will probably be the focus of attacks this time, but I expect there are going to be several people in the line of fire from all directions," said Kelly Dietrich, a Democratic strategist who trains candidates.

Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont and a self-identified democratic socialist, has taken command of the race after strong showings in the first three nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, alarming a Democratic establishment wary of his aggressive economic equality and social justice agenda.

But he stayed largely out of the spotlight at last week's debate as the candidates turned a volley of scathing attacks on Bloomberg, the former New York mayor who had been rising in polls after an unprecedented spending spree on ads.

Bloomberg will need to rebound at Tuesday's debate to keep his momentum alive. He entered the race in November and is skipping the four early voting states to focus on later contests starting with Super Tuesday, when 14 states vote.

Sanders will not be able to slide by as easily this time around, as candidates are already turning up their attacks on him on the campaign trail.

Challenge for Buttigieg

Buttigieg, the moderate former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has led the charge against Sanders, labeling him a polarizing candidate who would repel new voters.

Buttigieg could also face one of his most challenging debates. South Carolina and its large bloc of black voters will be a test of whether he can improve on what polls show is his lack of appeal to African Americans.

He joined a march of McDonald's workers in Charleston on Monday demanding a $15-an-hour minimum wage, and was met by counter-protesters wearing shirts that read: "Black Voters Matter" and chanting: "Pete cant be our president. Where was $15 in South Bend?"

Sanders is likely to be questioned about his praise for Cuba's late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro during an interview on the "60 Minutes" television program on Sunday. He said it was unfair to say everything about Castro was bad.

"When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?" Sanders asked.

That drew blowback from Democrats in Florida, a general election battleground and home to a large number of people who fled Cuba during Castro's rule and their descendants.

The debate stakes will be high as well for Biden, the Read More – Source