Democrats face off in NBC News-YouTube debate

  • Democratic presidential candidate, Martin O’Malley speaks the press in the spin room following the NBC, YouTube Democratic presidential debate at the Gaillard Center, January 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C.
  • Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders (gather after the NBC, YouTube Democratic presidential debate at the Gaillard Center, January 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C.
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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders at the end of the NBC, YouTube Democratic presidential debate at the Gaillard Center, January 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C.
  • Democratic presidential candidate, Martin O’Malley greets the audience after the NBC, YouTube Democratic presidential debate at the Gaillard Center, January 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C.
  • Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley (L), Hillary Clinton (C) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (R) during the NBC, YouTube Democratic presidential debate at the Gaillard Center, January 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C.
  • Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (R) during the NBC, YouTube Democratic presidential debate at the Gaillard Center, January 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C.
  • The audience listen to the candidates at the NBC, YouTube Democratic presidential debate at the Gaillard Center, January 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C.
  • Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on stage during the NBC, YouTube Democratic presidential debate at the Gaillard Center, January 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C.
  • Democratic presidential candidate, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (L), Hillary Clinton (C) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (R) stand together before the start of the NBC, YouTube Democratic presidential debate at the Gaillard Center, January 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C.
  • Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at the NBC, YouTube Democratic presidential debate at the Gaillard Center, January 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C.
  • Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders at the start of the NBC, YouTube Democratic presidential debate at the Gaillard Center, January 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C.
  • Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders before the start of the NBC, YouTube Democratic presidential debate at the Gaillard Center, January 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C.
  • Democratic presidential candidate, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (L), Hillary Clinton (C) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (R) stand together before the start of the NBC, YouTube Democratic presidential debate at the Gaillard Center, January 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C.
  • Backstage in the filing room of the media center of the NBC News/YouTube Democratic Debate at the Gaillard Center in Charleston, S.C. on January 17, 2016.
  • Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley during the NBC, YouTube Democratic presidential debate at the Gaillard Center, January 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C.
  • Backstage in the filing room of the media center of the NBC News/YouTube Democratic Debate at the Gaillard Center in Charleston, S.C. on January 17, 2016.
  • Backstage in the filing room of the media center of the NBC News/YouTube Democratic Debate at the Gaillard Center in Charleston, S.C. on January 17, 2016.
  • Clinton aide, Huma Abedin during the set-up of the NBC/YouTube Democratic debate at the Gaillard Center in Charleston, S.C. on January 17, 2016.
  • Clinton aide Huma Abedin before the NBC/YouTube Democratic debate in Charleston, S.C. on January 17, 2016.
  • Bernie Sanders staffers during set-up before the NBC News/YouTube Democratic Debate at the Gaillard Center in Charleston, S.C. on January 17, 2016.
  • An anti-Clinton demonstrators outside the Gaillard Center in Charleston, S.C. where the first Democratic debate of the year will take place, January 17, 2016.
  • Clinton aide Huma Abedin greets supporters outside the the Gaillard Center before the NBC/YouTube Democratic debate in Charleston, S.C. on January 17, 2016.
  • Bernie Sanders supporters wait for the candidates to arrive at the Gaillard Center in Charleston, S.C. for the first Democratic debate of the year, January 17, 2016.
  • A Hillary Clinton supporter in Charleston, S.C. awaits the the candidates arrival for the first Democratic debate of the year, January 17, 2016.
  • Political signs supporting Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in Charleston on January 17, 2016.

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CHARLESTON, SC - The 2016 Democratic presidential candidates gathered for their first debate of 2016 here Sunday night – and there were fireworks. Photographer Mark Peterson was on the ground capturing the scene at the NBC News/YouTube debate.

In the time leading up to the fourth Democratic debate, which was also the first one of 2016 and the last one before voters finally weigh in, it appeared it could be the most heated and consequential face off yet.

With just 14 days to go before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses, polls have unexpectedly tightened between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, making the caucuses and New Hampshire’s Feb. 8 primary — and thus the entire nominating contest — look for the moment like a virtual dead heat. And as the gap between the candidates has closed, the fighting between them has intensified.

Even though the candidates have faced off three times before, Sunday night’s debate, hosted by NBC News and the Congressional Black Caucus, gave voters the purest look at the differences between the candidates thus far.

These photographs were shot on assignment by photographer Mark Peterson for MSNBC Photography as part of his on-going body of work “Political Theater” which examines the landscape of the American political system.

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