Bernie Sanders In Spotlight During Final Dem Debate

The battle between Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton is heating up, with Sanders taking to social media to challenge Clinton about her views on healthcare.

The face-off began at 9 p.m. ET on NBC and marks the final scheduled meeting before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses. CNN reported that Sanders has been surging in some early-state polls and plans to make his case to the American public in the Dem debate Sunday night.

“Sanders was able to grow from a long-shot single-issue candidate into the leader of a movement that inspired young people and liberals that Clinton hasn’t quite reached.”

In addition, many deeply dissatisfied liberal voters have responded wholeheartedly to Sanders’ “fire-and-brimstone condemnations” of the structural foundations of this country, especially in the financial services industry. Sanders is also resonating with African American voters, with Sanders touting his lengthy history as a civil rights activist. While attending a South Carolina Democratic dinner Saturday night with Clinton, the senator recalled his attendance at the March on Washington with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 and denounced the obstruction of voting rights by the GOP.

“If you don’t have the guts to participate in a free and fair election, get another job.”

Over the past week, Clinton and Sanders have ramped up attacks on one another leading up to the Dem debate Sunday night, taking on issues from gun control to healthcare and Wall Street with increasing ferocity as polls have Sanders gaining ground on Clinton, Reuters reported.

He is also reportedly beating Clinton in recent New Hampshire polls, leading up to its primaries on Feb. 9, prompting the former secretary of state and U.S. senator to attack Sanders for past votes on gun control and to hammer his plan for a national single-payer healthcare system. The Vermont senator came back with an ad criticizing all Democrats who take money from Wall Street, a not-so-subtle dig at Clinton, who accused Sanders of going back on his word to avoid airing negative ads.

Sanders attended services Sunday morning at the Charleston, South Carolina church where the murders recently occurred, saying he would also entertain longer waiting periods. He also discussed Clinton’s recent attacks on NBC’s Meet the Press, calling them “defensive.”

“I think the reason that the Clinton campaign is getting defensive is they see that we have the momentum.”

Iowa-based Brad Anderson, a Democratic strategist (who also served as state director for President Obama’s campaign in 2012), told Reuters the Dem debate will play a key role in deciding what happens in the upcoming primaries.

“The debate is going to be enormously important given all the undecided we are seeing in the polls. People are still really, really weighing their decision here.”

To put things in perspective, Sanders had little to no staff on the ground in South Carolina as of October of 2015, but leading up to the Dem debate, the senator’s campaign increased spending here and other early-voting states, including Nevada. The Sanders campaign has hired staff members, opened offices in key cities and aired radio and television ads, according to CNN.

“His aides see value in pumping as much money into the race as possible right now in a bid to seize on his growing momentum.”

Saturday evening, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta wrote to her supporters, stating they “always knew” the 2016 presidential race would be tough and acknowledging that it was happening now.

“Public polling shows we have a real race on our hands in Iowa and New Hampshire – and make no mistake, we could lose one or both of these contests.”

[Photo by: Joe Raedle / Getty Images]