Worried Democrats rush to slow front-runner Sanders

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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a campaign event on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020, in Austin, Texas. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Worried Democrats on Monday intensified their assault against the party's presidential front-runner, Bernie Sanders, as the Vermont senator marched toward South Carolina's weekend primary eyeing a knockout blow.

At least three leading candidates, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Mike Bloomberg, reinforced their anti-Sanders rhetoric with paid attack ads for the first time. And a new political group was spending big to undermine Sanders' standing with African American voters.

“Socialist Bernie Sanders is promising a lot of free stuff,” says a brochure sent to 200,000 black voters in South Carolina by The Big Tent Project, a new organization trying to derail Sanders' candidacy. “Nominating Bernie means we reelect Trump. We can’t afford Bernie Sanders.”

The multi-pronged broadside just five days before South Carolina's first-in-the-South primary represents the Democrats' most aggressive attempt to knock Sanders down. It reflects growing concern within his party that the self-described democratic socialist is tightening his grip on the presidential nomination while they fear he's too extreme to defeat President Donald Trump this fall.

It also underscores the precarious state of Biden's campaign. The former vice president has long been viewed as the unquestioned front-runner in South Carolina because of his support from black voters. But as the contest nears, Sanders is also making a strong play here. If he can eat into Biden's base of support, that would raise fundamental questions about the future of Biden's candidacy.

Sanders has shifted new staff into the state from Nevada in the last 24 hours, expanded his South Carolina advertising and added events to his schedule.

Sanders senior adviser Jeff Weaver said there was an “air of desperation” to the fresh attacks on his candidate.

“You’ve got candidates, you’ve got super PACs, all piling on to stop Bernie Sanders,” Weaver said. "They know he has the momentum in the race."