CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Democrats running for president ripped into two of their own in the last debate before Super Tuesday, saying that nominating either front-runner Bernie Sanders or the best-funded candidate, Michael Bloomberg, would all but guarantee Donald Trump's re-election.
It's a grim prescription for a party that still can't believe it lost to Trump last time, but one that seemed all too real to the Democrats on stage.
Yet none of the other five contenders in Charleston, S.C., had the kind of breakout moment that suggested they were prepared to grab the nomination, or emerge from the pack to dislodge Sanders as the front-runner.
The debate showed the extent to which the campaign is becoming a two-person race heading into Super Tuesday March 3, with Sanders showing signs of pulling away from the pack and Bloomberg becoming the latest moderate to try to stop him, after three others before him failed.
Joe Biden is likely to get a boost from an expected win in South Carolina on Saturday, but has dropped in the polls as other candidates have come to match his advantage in name recognition, organization and fund-raising. Elizabeth Warren went on the offensive for a second debate but has struggled to turn those strong performances into primary wins. Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar both lack the funding to compete effectively in the sprawling 14-state Super Tuesday contest on March 3.
But the debate also drew attention to the difficult path both Bloomberg and Sanders would have if they became the nominee against Trump -- including with the very groups that make up the core of the Democratic Party, women and minority voters.
Sanders faced questions about his past support for revolutionary leaders around the world, the cost of his health-care overhaul and his ability to get anything done as president. Bloomberg received scrutiny about lawsuits by women at his company and his past support for stop-and-frisk policing practices that targeted minority men, which he admitted got "out of control."
It fell to longshot candidate Tom Steyer to crystallize the stakes of the night and the choice between Sanders and Bloomberg: "This conversation shows a huge risk for the Democratic Party. We are looking at a party that has decided that we're either going to support someone who is a democratic socialist or somebody who has a long history of being a Republican."
Sanders drew the most fire from his rivals, as befitting his status as frontrunner. Warren accused the Vermont senator of stealing details of her health-care plan. Bloomberg said Russia's intelligence services favor Sanders because Vladimir Putin wants Trump to be re-elected. Biden criticized Sanders' past stances on gun control.
Sanders pushed back on Bloomberg's accusation. "Let me tell Mr. Putin, I'm not a good friend of President Xi of China," Sanders retorted in a reference to comments Bloomberg has made about the Chinese leader. "Hey Mr. Putin, if I'm president of the United States, you're not going to interfere" in U.S. elections, he said.