LAS VEGAS (CN) – Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg – the newcomer to the Democratic candidate debate stage – found himself in the hot seat Wednesday when the other five candidates piled on the billionaire over his treatment of minorities and women.
In addition to launching the stop-and-frisk policy in New York, which led to a disproportionate number of minority arrests for minor crimes, Bloomberg has called women “fat broads” and supported red-lining – a bank strategy that blocks loans in minority neighborhoods, said Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
“Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another,” Warren said.
Bloomberg countered that he eventually fixed the stop-and-frisk policy after determining that it was affecting minorities, cited his record of employing women – his deputy mayor was a woman, as are 70% of his foundation’s employees. He added that he no longer supports red-lining and is exactly the right person to take on President Trump.
“I know how to take on an arrogant con man like Donald Trump,” the New York native said, later adding that everyone on the stage has made mistakes. “If we took everybody that was wrong off this panel, everybody that was wrong on criminal justice at some time in their careers, there'd be nobody else up here.”
The debate comes just three days before the Nevada Democratic precinct caucuses, which in combination with early voting that took place this week will decide allocation of most of Nevada’s delegates for the national convention. The Silver State will send 36 pledged delegates to the convention, though only 23 of those will be allocated based on caucus results.
The rest are allocated by state party votes, members of Congress and a vote at the state convention in May.
Six candidates made it to the stage for the ninth Democratic debate: Former Vice President Joe Biden; Bloomberg; former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar; Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders; and Warren.
Bloomberg, who did not vie for delegates in New Hampshire or Iowa, got into the debate by garnering 10% or more in four national polls. Biden, Sanders and Warren got in via polling and by winning at least one pledged delegate in New Hampshire or Iowa. Buttigieg and Klobuchar got in with delegates.
Billionaire Tom Steyer, who appeared in the past five debates, did not make the Vegas stage but marched briefly with union members protesting earlier in the day outside the non-union Palms Casino Resort just down the street from the debate venue at Paris Las Vegas Hotel.
Buttigieg and Klobuchar also appeared briefly at the protest, each walking a few hundred yards surrounded by a crowd of about 200, mostly Culinary Union members chanting, “No contract, no peace!”
Heath care is a driving issue in Nevada, where the powerful Culinary Union has steadfastly denounced “Medicare for All,” reminding members often and loudly that a single-payer plan could erase their hard-won health coverage. Sanders defended Medicare for All as cheaper than other options in the long run – claiming his plan will save $450 billion annually.
Klobuchar said his plan leaves too many people hanging.
“There are 149 million Americans that would lose their health insurance under Senator Sanders’ plan” Klobuchar said. “I don’t think we should accept that.”
Her plan would reduce premiums for 12 million Americans and expand coverage for about the same number, she said, suggesting that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
“The truth is that when you see some troubled waters, you don't blow up a bridge, you build one,” Klobichar said. “And so we need to improve the Affordable Care Act, not blow it up,”
Biden touted his work on the ACA, commonly known as Obamacare, which was passed while he was vice-president.
“I’m the only one on this stage that actually got anything done on health care, OK?” Biden said, adding that Bloomberg called the plan a disgrace. He also decried Sanders’ plan as a $30 trillion dream the nation can’t afford.
“Let’s get real,” Biden chided.
The main reason people can’t afford health care isn’t because it’s expensive to provide, Sanders said.
“It’s because last year the healthcare industry made $100 billion in profit,” he said.
Nevada is the candidates’ first test in an urban state with a diverse population.
More than 2.5 million of the state's 3 million residents live in or near two cities – Las Vegas (2.2 million) and Reno (400,000). Census figures show the state is also much more diverse than the previous two Democratic primary contests. Nevada is roughly 48% white, while New Hampshire and Iowa are 93% and 91% white, respectively.
Buttigieg ripped into Klobuchar, who was recently stumped when asked to name the president of Mexico, which she defended as a misstep.
“But you're staking your candidacy on your Washington experience,” Buttigieg said. “You're on the committee that oversees border security. You're on the committee that does trade. You're literally in part of the committee that's overseeing these things and were not able to speak to literally the first thing about the politics of the country to our south.”
She countered that “people sometimes forget names,” and Warren defended her.
“Missing a name all by itself does not indicate that you do not understand what's going on. And I just think this is unfair,” Warren said.
The candidates go into the caucus with Sanders leading in many national polls.
An Emerson College national poll released Wednesday showed Sanders with 29% support nationally among likely Democratic primary voters, Biden with 22% and Bloomberg with 14%. Warren followed at 12%, then Buttigieg with 8%. Six percent in the poll chose Klobuchar, the final debate qualifier.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out Tuesday also shows Sanders leading all comers with 27% support. Biden came in at 15% in that poll, while Bloomberg and Warren tied with 14%. Buttigieg garnered 13% in the NBC poll, while Klobuchar polled at 7%.
The debate was sponsored by the Nevada Independent and NBC News. Three more Democratic debates are planned – in Charleston, South Carolina, on Feb. 25, in Phoenix, Arizona, March 15, and one in April that remains unscheduled.
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