Updated: 02/19/2020 11:35 PM EST
Democratic candidates started Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas with sharp attacks on Mike Bloomberg, challenging the former mayor on his record on law enforcement, his comments about women and his spending on the race.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has upped attacks against Bloomberg in recent days, began the pile on by saying Bloomberg couldn’t draw the diverse voter turnout needed to beat President Donald Trump in November.
“Mr. Bloomberg had policies in New York City of stop and frisk, which went after African-American and Latino people in an outrageous way,” Sanders said. “That is not a way you’re going to grow voter turnout.”
Wednesday marked Bloomberg’s debut on the debate stage after qualifying earlier this week, setting the stage for a more contentious showdown. The former mayor stayed relatively quiet as the other candidates pounced at the opportunity to attack his record.
Elizabeth Warren jumped in next with a fiery charge, criticizing Bloomberg for his alleged comments about women.
“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against,” Warren said. “A billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians, and no I’m not talking about Donald Trump. 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.”
Amy Klobuchar chimed in to say she welcomed the opportunity to debate Bloomberg on the stage, and said she didn’t think he should “be hiding behind his TV ads.” She also took a jab at the Bloomberg campaign’s memo from this morning, suggesting other candidates need to “get out of the way” so that he can take on Trump.
“And I’m not going to do that because a campaign memo from Mayor Bloomberg said this morning, that the only way we get a nominee is if we step aside for him. I think we need something different than Donald Trump. I don’t think you look at Donald Trump and say, we need somebody richer in the White House,” Klobuchar said.
Bloomberg had the opportunity to respond to the early onset of attacks, but he took his moment to redirect the conversation to his central message that he is the one to beat Trump in November.
“I am a New Yorker. I know how to take on an arrogant conman like Donald Trump, that comes from New York. I’m a mayor, was a mayor. I know how to run a complicated, diverse city, the biggest, most diverse city in this country” Bloomberg said. “I’m a manager, I knew what to do after 9/11 and brought the city back stronger than ever. And I’m a philanthropist who didn’t inherit his money but made his money. And 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 my kids.”
Joe Biden took Bloomberg’s response as an opportunity to argue that he is “better positioned to beat” the president. He took another jab at Bloomberg, saying the former mayor “didn’t get a lot done” in New York.
Pete Buttigieg was the last of the crew to weigh in, and he used his moment to draw Sanders into the fray.
“We have got to wake up as a party. We could wake up two weeks from today, the day after Super Tuesday and the only candidates left standing will be Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg — the two most polarizing figures on this stage,” Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg continued: “And most Americans don’t see where they fit if they’ve got to choose between a socialist who thinks that capitalism is the root of all evil, and a billionaire that thinks money ought to be the root of all power. Let’s put forward somebody who actually lives and works in a middle class neighborhood, in an industrial Midwestern city. Let’s put forward somebody who’s actually a Democrat. Look, we shouldn’t have to choose between one candidate who wants to burn this party down and another candidate who wants to buy this party out. We can do better.”