Las Vegas, Nevada (CNN)Michael Bloomberg‘s billions got him onto the debate stage — but did nothing to spare him from the barrage he faced Wednesday night here in Las Vegas.
In the most fiery and contentious Democratic primary debate yet, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren led a non-stop barrage against the former New York City mayor who was appearing on stage for the first time. She kicked it off by calling him an “arrogant billionaire” who “calls women fat broads and horse faced lesbians.”
Then everyone else jumped in.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar accused Bloomberg of “hiding behind his TV ads.” Former Vice President Joe Biden hammered him for opposing Obamacare. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders attacked Bloomberg’s support for stop-and-frisk policing in his first answer of the night. Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg called him “a billionaire who thinks that money ought to be the root of all power.”
The pile-on against Bloomberg came three days before the Nevada caucuses, as candidates trailing Sanders and with nowhere near Bloomberg’s money are desperate to prove they deserve to remain in the race as it narrows.
Here are six takeaways from the ninth Democratic presidential debate:
Democratic voters have been laser-focused on electability — and Bloomberg’s willingness to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on an advertising campaign had lent him the perception of it in recent weeks, as he’s jumped into double digits in national polls. That perception might have been shattered Wednesday night.
Bloomberg had answers for none of the criticism about his previous support for stop-and-frisk policing, his opposition to Obamacare, offensive remarks about women or why he hasn’t yet released his tax returns.
His worst moment came when Warren and Biden challenged him to release women who alleged sexism and misogynistic behavior by Bloomberg and at his company from non-disclosure agreements. Warren said those women were “being muzzled” and that “the drip, drip, drip of stories of women saying they have been harassed and discriminated against” would be a massive liability in a general election.
But Bloomberg didn’t address any of their criticisms, and wouldn’t budge.
“None of them accuse me of doing anything other than, maybe they didn’t like a joke I told,” Bloomberg said.
“I’m simply not going to end these agreements because they were made consensually and they have every right to expect they will stay private,” he added.
Desperate for a return to the spotlight after disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, Warren installed herself as the leading attacker in the debate’s opening minutes. She eviscerated Bloomberg’s deflection on a question about allegations of misogynistic behavior at his company after he highlighted female executives there and at his philanthropy.
“I hope you heard what his defense was: I’ve been nice to some women,” she said. “That just doesn’t cut it.”
And while Bloomberg got the worst of it, Warren spent the whole night on offense.
In a single, memorable answer, Warren lambasted three of her opponents’ health care plans. She called Buttigieg’s proposal “a slogan that was thought up by his consultants.” Klobuchar’s, she said, was “like a Post-It note.” And she said Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan — which Warren largely backs — is hurt because “his campaign relentlessly attacks everyone who asks a question or tries to fill in details about how to actually make this work.”
For the first time in this long primary campaign, Sanders took the debate stage as its national front-runner. But unlike others who have held that unofficial mantle, and carried the target that comes with it, Sanders emerged from the experience mostly unscathed.
The Vermont senator faced familiar lines of attack — that his democratic socialism makes him unelectable and that his Medicare for All plan is unpractical — but Bloomberg’s presence altered the dynamics of the debate enough that Sanders was able to stick to his message and avoid being dragged into deeper waters by his rivals.
Bloomberg also gave Sanders a fresh target: a real, live billionaire onstage to hammer when he spoke about income inequality.
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