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Dems Pounce on Bloomberg in His 1st Debate, While Seeking Their Own Moments

Dems Pounce on Bloomberg in His 1st Debate, While Seeking Their Own Moments
Mike Bloomberg at a campaign rally in Tennessee last week. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Wednesday, 19 February 2020 03:33 PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., opened Democratic presidential primary debate Wednesday night in Las Vegas by, among other things, hurling barbs at the stage's newcomer Mike Bloomberg.

"In order to beat Donald Trump, we're going to need the largest voter turnout in the history of the United States," Sanders, fielding the first question, said. "Mr. Bloomberg had policies in New York City of stop and frisk, which went after African-American and Latino people in an outrageous way. That is not a way you're going to grow voter turnout."

Warren followed up with an even more visceral attack.

"I'd like to talk about who we're running against: A billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians, and no I'm not talking about Donald Trump," she fired next. "I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg. Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of harassing women. And of supporting racist policies like red lining and stop and frisk.

"Look, I'll support whoever the democratic nominee is, but understand this. Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another."

Bloomberg, whose rise in the polls has rattled the Democratic presidential field, was in for a night of pointed attacks. He was facing rivals eager to take him on in person for the first time on a debate stage, injecting a new, untested candidate into what had become almost routine campaign events.

The former New York mayor has enjoyed a surge in polling numbers, coming in second, with 19% to Sanders’ 31%, in an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Tuesday. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Wednesday has the former mayor in a tight third place at 14% to Sanders’ 32% and Joe Biden’s 16%.

The NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll was the final break to qualify him to join his Democratic rivals Wednesday night in Las Vegas for their ninth debate. It was for many voters the first chance to see Bloomberg live instead of in a television ad.

But with those poll numbers comes far more scrutiny, and he has come under criticism for a week about past statements that don’t track with traditional Democratic positions on policing, women, race and health care for the elderly. He has also taken hits for self-funding his campaign.

(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

His rivals, meanwhile, were also watching for their own moments in the hot seat. Sanders, the current front-runner, was expected to face pointed questions about his health (he had a heart attack earlier in the campaign), and about whether his progressive policies are too extreme for a general-election campaign.

And former Vice President Joe Biden, the longtime frontrunner in the race, lately appearing to lose much of his early-campaign momentum, promised a first- or second-place finish in Nevada; he was intent on showing that his campaign remained viable after disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Pete Buttigieg, formerly mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has the most delegates, but concerns about his qualifications have kept other moderates like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar in the mix

Bloomberg’s rivals were eager for the opportunity to confront him before a national television audience. He has campaigned in states where other candidates, and national media, are scarce and has faced little questioning while his $400 million in advertising saturates the airwaves and the Internet.

“I cannot beat Michael Bloomberg on the airwaves, big surprise, even though we have gotten in millions and millions of dollars,” Klobuchar told reporters in Las Vegas. “But I can beat him on the debate stage.”

Biden told MSNBC that Bloomberg “can buy every ad he wants but he can’t, in fact, wipe away his record from dealing with stop and frisk to his foreign policy assertions and the like.”

Others are equally looking forward to having a new target on the stage. Sanders, who has made the former New York mayor, one of the primary subjects of his stump speech, has argued that Bloomberg is using his billions to buy the nomination. Pete Buttigieg said Bloomberg should answer for allegations of sexist and racist remarks at his business.

And Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts looking to infuse her own campaign with new energy, has struck out at Bloomberg on his views on banking and discrimination.

Warren didn't just open with a sharp attack. Earlier Tuesday she tweeted her anticipation of debating Bloomberg.

“It’s a shame Mike Bloomberg can buy his way into the debate. But at least now primary voters curious about how each candidate will take on Donald Trump can get a live demonstration of how we each take on an egomaniac billionaire,” she said.

The other Dems' attacks on Bloomberg have come as he has also weathered criticisms from the president, who has traded barbs with the onetime mayor over, among other things, their respective heights and weights. Trump has also brought up persistent economic and social ills in New York City under Bloomberg's administration. In a slashing attack just ahead ot the debate, Trump also blasted Bloomberg News as corrupt, in an apparent reference to its November pronouncement that it wouldn't investigate Bloomberg or any of the other candidates during the Democrats' primaries.

In a Wednesday tweet, Trump wrote, "Is corrupt Bloomberg News going to say what a pathetic debater Mini Mike is, that he doesn't respect our great farmers, or that he has violated campaign finance laws at the highest and most sinister level with 'payoffs' all over the place?"

While the other candidates are battling in Nevada for the state’s caucuses on Saturday and the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29, Bloomberg doesn’t appear on a ballot until 14 states and territories vote on Super Tuesday, including the big delegate prizes of California and Texas.

The debate was likely to be both propitious and treacherous for Bloomberg. It afforded him an opportunity to showcase his centrist ideas and introduce himself to voters with more than a television ad.

But his being on the stage at all was an issue for his rivals ahead of the debate. The Democratic National Committee made a long-planned rule change just before the Iowa caucuses to eliminate the fund-raising qualification for debate participation, which blocked Bloomberg from participating in the debates that occurred since he joined the race in late November. Without that requirement, he qualified by reaching at least 10% in four national polls.

Sanders has criticized the rule change, although Warren, Klobuchar and Biden have been vocal about wanting a chance to debate the billionaire politician and media mogul. For his part, Bloomberg has said that it’s only fair he be allowed to participate if polls show the public wants it.

“I think I’d come out a big winner,” he said in a Feb. 3 interview. “The more I can show the difference between me and other candidates, the better off I am.”

Bloomberg has begun responding to the criticism with a digital video that shows a series of harassing commentary by Sanders’ ardent fans known as Bernie Bros, and suggesting America is weary of that kind of discourse.

The other billionaire in the race, former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, did not qualify under the new rules for the first time.

In anticipation of qualifying, Bloomberg prepared for Tuesday night's debate with mock sessions. Senior adviser Howard Wolfson is playing Sanders in the sessions and other staffers portraying other candidates, the campaign said.

There are other fireworks to watch for as well. Klobuchar rose in the polls, and finished a surprise third in New Hampshire, after some sharp criticism of Buttigieg’s lack of experience. She also went after Sanders and Warren for their support of Medicare for All, which she calls unrealistic.

Sanders has criticized Biden over his support for the Iraq war. And Warren and Sanders have sparred over the Trump administration’s rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the best ways to enact progressive legislation.

Beneath all of the sparring is a broader strategic question that Democrats must address: whether the best way to beat President Donald Trump in November is by reassuring moderates with kitchen-table proposals -- as Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Biden, Klobuchar have argued -- or by bolstering turnout with aggressive ideas that create a clear contrast -- as Warren and Sanders contend.

The debate at the Paris Theater in Las Vegas was sponsored by NBC and the Nevada Independent.

Newsmax's Eric Mack and Jeffrey Rubin contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2020 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., opened Democratic presidential primary debate Wednesday night in Las Vegas by, among other things, hurling barbs at the stage's newcomer Mike Bloomberg. "In order to beat Donald Trump, we're going to need the...
Wednesday, 19 February 2020 03:33 PM
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