Rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination rounded on front-runner Bernie Sanders in the latest televised debate of the campaign.
The Vermont senator was the focus of much discussion in Charleston, South Carolina, less than a week before so-called Super Tuesday where 14 states hold primaries and caucuses.
But billionaire Michael Bloomberg also came in for criticism about treatment of women in the workplace, while other hopefuls sought to make themselves the alternative to Mr Sanders.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking a strong win in South Carolina to keep his campaign afloat, argued only he has the experience to lead in the world, while Amy Klobuchar repeatedly contended that she alone could win the votes of battleground state moderates.
Pete Buttigieg pointed to Mr Sanders’s self-described democratic socialism and his recent comments expressing admiration for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s push for education.
He said: “I am not looking forward to a scenario where it comes down to Donald Trump with his nostalgia for the social order of the 1950s and Bernie Sanders with a nostalgia for the revolutionary politics of the 1960s.”
But the moderates did little to draw separation among themselves, a dynamic that has so far only benefited the Vermont senator.
Mr Sanders fought back throughout the night, pointing to polls that showed him beating the Republican president and noting all the recent attention he’s received, saying: “I’m hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight. I wonder why?”
Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren was among Mr Sanders’ critics. She pressed the case that she could execute ideas that the Vermont senator could only talk about.
“Bernie and I agree on a lot of things,” she said. “But I think I would make a better president than Bernie.”
The intensity of Tuesday’s forum, with candidates repeatedly shouting over each other, reflected the reality that the Democrats’ establishment wing is quickly running out of time to stop Mr Sanders’ rise.
Even some critics, Mr Bloomberg among them, conceded that Mr Sanders could build an insurmountable delegate lead as soon as next week.
The 10th debate of the 2020 primary season came just four days before South Carolina’s primary, the first in the US South, and one week before more than a dozen states vote on Super Tuesday.
The Democratic White House hopefuls will not stand side-by-side on the debate stage again until the middle of March. That made Tuesday’s debate likely the last chance for some candidates to save themselves and alter the trajectory of the nomination fight.
The winner will face Donald Trump in the US presidential election in November.
Moving forward from the fiery debate, there are questions about the Democratic Party’s ability to unify behind a nominee.
Ms Klobuchar perhaps summed up her party’s challenge best, saying: “If we spend the next 10 months tearing our party apart, Donald Trump is going to spend the next four years tearing this country apart.”