CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Democratic presidential front-runner Bernie Sanders came under fire on Monday for comments about late Cuban President Fidel Castro, and moderate rival Pete Buttigieg was heckled at a march with labor activists.
Sanders and his top rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, headed into an intense period of campaigning before Saturday’s South Carolina primary — their first big test with African-American voters — and the 14-state Super Tuesday contest on March 3 that will offer the largest number of votes so far.
Sanders’ Saturday victory in the Nevada caucuses, which followed strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, has stoked concern among establishment Democrats who see the self-described democratic socialist as too liberal to defeat Republican President Donald Trump in November.
Here are some Monday highlights from the campaign trail:
‘PETE CAN’T BE OUR PRESIDENT’
Former South Bend Mayor Buttigieg marched with McDonald’s workers in Charleston who are demanding a $15 minimum wage. Buttigieg joined the front of the line, helping carry a large sign that read “Unions for All” while workers chanted.
Most of the marchers are black, a demographic whose support Buttigieg has struggled to win in public opinion polls.
A group of counter-protesters wearing shirts that read “Black Voters Matter” disrupted the speeches with chants: “Pete can’t be our president. Where was $15 in South Bend?”
Buttigieg briefly addressed them, saying, “No matter who you support for president, I support you and I support unions and a $15 minimum wage.”
After he spoke, Buttigieg broke into a near-running trot to avoid protesters looking to confront him before hopping into a black SUV.
U.S. Senator Sanders faced criticism from Florida Democrats for comments about Castro in an interview with the television program “60 Minutes” broadcast on Sunday.
“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know?” Sanders said, referring to the late revolutionary leader. “When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?”
That drew blowback from elected Democrats in Florida, one of the battlegrounds of the general election and home a large population of people who fled Cuba during Castro’s rule and their descendants.
“I’m hoping that in the future, Senator Sanders will take time to speak to some of my constituents before he decides to sing the praises of a murderous tyrant like Fidel Castro,” said Representative Donna Shalala, on Twitter.
BIDEN IN SOUTH CAROLINA
Biden rolled out an affordable housing plan aimed at protecting tenants from eviction and increasing access to lending. His campaign has focused heavily on South Carolina, where Biden has had high support from black voters who fondly remember his role in the historic presidency of Barack Obama.
He promoted the plan at community resource center in North Charleston, where the campaign says evictions greatly outpace the national average.
“Imagine being a man or woman who breaks their neck working a full-time job and literally worried that their kid will not have a place to rest their head at night,” Biden said.
His plan would provide increase safeguards against discrimination in lending, provide additional legal services to people facing eviction and put in place a mediation program that helps avoid costly and long legal battles.
He also repeatedly invoked an affordable housing bill by U.S. Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, who is expected to endorse Biden after the party holds its next debate in Charleston on Tuesday.
Louis Smith, who runs the Community Resource Center of North Charleston, said he was thankful Biden came to his location to address these issues.
“I am not hearing enough from the Democrats on how they are going to help people who are struggling. All they want to talk about is Donald Trump. I could care less about that man,” said Smith, who says he remains undecided about who he is voting for on Saturday.
INSURANCE SECTOR SPOOKED
Sanders’ front-runner status put pressure on the share prices of health insurers as investors consider his plans to vastly expand America’s social welfare system.
Sanders is proposing massive overhauls of the U.S. economy, including banning private health insurance in favor of a government-run system that guarantees universal health coverage,
On Monday, he unveiled another big social spending plan that would dedicate $1.5 trillion over 10 years to create a universal child care and early education system, to be funded by taxing the wealthiest Americans.
“Who does Bernie think will pay for Medicare for All? Mexico?” Bloomberg’s campaign said on Twitter, alluding to Trump’s 2016 campaign promises that Mexico would pay for the wall he wants to build along the United States’ southern border.
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