Analysis: Dems’ civility gives way to combustible conflict

Wednesday’s debate signaled a sharp turn in the Democratic contest, with civility giving way to a combustible conflict that laid bare both the ideological divisions roiling the party and the personal animosities that have simmered for months.

Elizabeth Warren criticized Bernie Sanders for leading a movement that has provided a haven for online harassment. Amy Klobuchar accused Pete Buttigieg of calling her dumb. And all the candidates piled on first-time debate participant Mike Bloomberg, launching aggressive attacks on his record on race, gender and how he is wielding his vast personal wealth in pursuit of the Democratic nomination.

Sanders’ strong showings in the opening contests have left some rivals fearful he could begin to amass an insurmountable lead in March, when delegate-rich states like California and Texas vote. And more moderate candidates who view the Vermont senator — a self-described democratic socialist — as unelectable in November fear Bloomberg’s late entry in the race could further divide up the anti-Sanders vote.

What was unclear at the end of the two-hour contest was how much clarity it provided for Democratic voters still searching for the candidate they believe has the best chance to defeat Trump. And the candidates themselves appeared prepared to fight on for months. 

In the debate’s final moments, all but Sanders found one thing to agree on: They are open to bringing the race for the nomination to the Democratic convention in July if no candidate emerges from the voting contests with a majority of the delegates in hand.

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