All against Bloomberg in the Democrats' race

The billionaire and former Republican mayor rises second behind Sanders

Photo: AP Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders (L-R), Las Vegas, 19 February.

The ninth presidential TV debate of the top six candidates running for the Democratic nomination to take on US President Donald Trump in November was marked by the first appearance in the race of Michael Bloomberg. The former Republican New York mayor faced joint criticism from all his rivals on the stage in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

They assailed the billionaire over his record on race, history of sexist comments and the use of his massive fortune to muscle his way into the contest. In a rough debate, the media mogul and self-funding candidate defended his record and argued that he is Democrats' best chance of beating Republican President Donald Trump. Bloomberg, who entered the race in November and is skipping the first four early voting states in February to focus on later nominating contests in March, has risen to No. 2 among Democrats, behind Bernie Sanders, according to a Reuters/Ipsos national poll released last Tuesday.

Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg all lined up to go after Bloomberg. “We're running against a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians,” Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, said. “Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another,” she added.

Bloomberg has been accused over the years of many sexist and misogynistic comments, and several lawsuits have been filed alleging that women were discriminated against at his media company. He did not respond to Warren's comments about his alleged remarks about women, taken from a booklet given to him in 1990 that was said to be a compilation of his sayings over the years.

Bloomberg said at the debate that he was using his money for an important cause. “I'm spending that money to get rid of Donald Trump - the worst president we've ever had. And if I can get that done, it will be a great contribution to America and to my kids,” he said.

Sanders lashed out at Bloomberg's policing policies as New York City mayor that he said targeted “African-American and Latinos in an outrageous way”. And former Vice President Joe Biden charged that Bloomberg's “stop-and-frisk” policy ended up “throwing five million black men up against the wall”.

Longtime establishment favourite Biden, a two-term vice president, entered the night at the bottom of a moderate muddle behind Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. And after a bad finish last week in New Hampshire, Warren was fighting to resurrect her stalled White House bid.

The other leading progressive in the race, Sanders came under attack from Biden and Bloomberg for his embrace of democratic socialism.

Watching during his Western campaign swing, Trump joined the Bloomberg pile-on. “Mini Mike Bloomberg's debate performance tonight was perhaps the worst in the history of debates, and there have been some really bad ones,” Trump tweeted. “He was stumbling, bumbling and grossly incompetent.”

Observers note that the tension during the ninth debate reflected growing anxiety among Democrats that the nomination fight could yield a candidate who will struggle to build a winning coalition in November to beat Trump.



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