Democratic presidential candidates are expected to turn their fire on self-described democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) in tonight's debate in South Carolina before Saturday's primary that could reshape the race.
Sanders has pulled within just a few points of South Carolina front-runner Joe Biden. It's a pivotal state for the former vice president who hopes to shore up his faltering campaign by making a big impression among black voters there.
Some establishment Democrats are in full panic mode as Sanders has taken a big leap forward in his bid to win the party's presidential nomination, worried that his socialist label won't go over well in the general election. Now party leaders are wondering if he can be stopped.
After spending decades as an outside agitator accustomed to attacking the party establishment, Sanders is suddenly the one on defense.
During a town hall Monday night televised on CNN, Sanders said he expected the attacks. But he still seemed to be adjusting to his new status. "It is a little funny to find myself as the so-called front-runner," he said.
Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidates have been campaigning across the Palmetto State in preparation for tonight's debate.
The state's primary election is coming up on Saturday and Sanders remains the party's front runner.
Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Mike Bloomberg are going after Sanders in attack ads this week, both on television and online.
Buttigieg highlighted Sanders' call for a government-financed health care system as an example of his "polarization." Biden accused Sanders of trying to undermine President Barack Obama when he was running for reelection in 2012. And Bloomberg assailed Sanders' record on gun control.
Heading into the debate, there are no signs that any of the seven remaining candidates are close to quitting their respective campaigns.
Tonight's debate is the second in a week and the 10th debate since the Democratic presidential campaign began. It's also the last debate before Super Tuesday next week where 14 states will vote.
The next debate is scheduled for March 15 in Phoenix, AZ.