Democrats debate in Las Vegas

  • Feb 19, 2020
  • Wausau Daily Herald

WASHINGTON -- It was the debate many Democrats had been waiting for.

The six candidates in Las Vegas on Wednesday wrestled over health care, taxes and climate change. But the central issue in the ferocious debate – the first to feature former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg – was less about policy and more about the direction of the Democratic Party and who can defeat President Donald Trump in November.

That argument began in the first few seconds, and never let up.

Bloomberg was on defense throughout the evening – the target for virtually every other candidate on stage – and had to answer for his previous positions on health care, policing policies that disproportionately affected black New Yorkers and his company’s treatment of its female employees.

Several other candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts fought aggressively for time and the oxygen they need to give their campaign a boost and the sense that they still have a realistic chance of winning the nomination.

“I can’t think of a way to make it easier for Donald Trump to get reelected than listening to this conversation,” Bloomberg said during a fight over imposing higher taxes on the wealthy, which he said he opposes.

Bloomberg dismissed the liberals on stage in Trumpian terms: The country, he said, had tried “communism” and that it “just didn’t work.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders fired back by arguing that beating Trump would require the largest voter turnout in history and Bloomberg can’t do that because of his past support for the controversial “stop-and-frisk” police strategy that had a disproportionate impact on black communities in New York.

Sanders said the policy, which Bloomberg apologized for again on Wednesday, “went after the African American and Latino people in an outrageous way.”

Sanders also relentlessly attacked Bloomberg’s wealth, describing it as part of an income inequality in the country that is “immoral.”

The debate came at an inflection point in the race for the Democratic nomination, as Bloomberg has seen his support rise as he has blanketed television airwaves with ads. Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg both came out of Iowa and New Hampshire with strong finishes, and that put targets on their backs as well on Wednesday.

“This has been quite a debate,” Klobuchar summed up in her closing statement.

From the first moments of the debate, Bloomberg was on defense. He was attacked for not yet releasing his taxes, his early positions on Obamacare, his “stop and frisk” policing policies and, in one particularly poignant exchange, for his company’s record handling workplace complaints from female employees.

Bloomberg said his company, Bloomberg LP, had “no tolerance for the kind of behavior the Me Too movement has exposed.”

But Elizabeth Warren quickly pressed the former New York mayor on how many women who worked for him were subject to non-disclosure agreements and were unable to talk about harassment and abuse in the workplace.

Warren said the women were being “muzzled” by Bloomberg and she encouraged him to release the women for those agreements on stage.

“I hope you heard what his defense was: ‘I’ve been nice to some women,’” Warren said. “The mayor needs to stand on his record.”

Though his competition sought to put Bloomberg’s back against the wall, but the former Republican landed several blows of his own –describing Sanders and Warren as too left to beat Trump.

Not every moment was a brawl. Warren, at one point, came to Klobuchar’s defense about her recent failure to identify the president of Mexico in an interview

Buttigieg, who has frequently tussled with Klobuchar in previous debates, said Klobuchar is staking her candidacy on her Washington experience but failed to name Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, even though she serves on the Senate committee that oversees trade and border security.

“Are you trying to stay that I’m dumb? Are you mocking me?” Klobuchar asked Buttigieg. “People sometimes forget names.”

Warren jumped in to agree that forgetting a name happens to everyone and doesn’t by itself “indicate that you don’t understand what’s going on.”

The next debate takes place Feb. 25 in South Carolina, ahead of that state’s primary.

A group of protesters interrupted the former vice president’s closing remarks. Biden was able to keep his calm as the protesters chanted about the Obama administration deporting millions of people.

Protesters interrupt @JoeBiden's closing remarks #demdebatepic.twitter.com/4k3LLJWCpQ

The crowd booed and chanted “Joe” in response as the protesters were removed from the room.

Biden has been interrupted by protesters before, specifically over past administration's mass deportation policies.

Sanders was the only candidate on stage who said the Democrat with the most delegates should automatically be the Democratic nominee if no candidate reaches a majority of delegates to secure the nomination.

“I think that the will of the people should prevail, yes,” said Sanders, who is leading most national polls.

The crowded field of Democrats, including a muddled group of moderates seeking to challenge Sanders, has raised the possibility that no candidate will arrive at the Democratic National Convention with the needed 1,991 delegates.

“Whatever the rules of the Democratic Party are, they should be followed,” Bloomberg said.

“A convention working its will means that people have the delegates that are pledged to them and they keep those delegates until they come to the convention,” Warren said.

The moderator restated the question: The leading person with the delegates, should they be the nominee or not?

“No, let the process work its way out,” Biden said.

Biden: McConnell was ‘pain in the neck’ but I have been only candidate to beat him

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY., made his way onto the debate stage Wednesday night.

Biden declared that it’s not fair to say he's friends with McConnell, who Biden called a "pain in the neck" during his vice president years and beyond.

He also claimed that he was the only one on the stage that has beaten McConnell, and reiterated that he’s “been the object of his affection” regarding the impeachment trial.

Warren quickly brought up when Biden reportedly told McConnell: “Mitch, we want to see you come back" so they could work together.

Warren then asserted that it was not hitting McConnell harder that led to his re-election, which had consequences like him stealing “a Supreme Court seat from the Democrats.”

President Barack Obama had nominated Merrick Garland to succeed conservative Antonin Scalia, who had passed away.

McConnell immediately declared that there would be no appointment by Obama given that it was a presidential election year. At the time, McConnell's decision created a furor among Democrats in Washington and across the nation.

As Warren kept talking about McConnell, Klobuchar blurted out “oh my god.”

Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar scrapped it up again, this time sparked by her record on immigration-related issues.

Buttigieg criticized Klobuchar for having voted to make English the nation’s official language.

Buttigieg also said Klobuchar has been more supportive of Trump’s judicial nominees than any of the other senators who ran for president.

While defending her record, Klobuchar jabbed back.

“I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete,” she said.

Klobuchar also accused Buttigieg of not having “been in the arena,” doing the work but just having “memorized a bunch of talking points.”

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, countered that leading a diverse city that had been facing ruin may not sound like an arena to some. But, “you don’t have to be in Washington to matter.”

Michael Bloomberg the billionaire and Bernie sanders the self-described ‘democratic socialist’ went after each other in what may be the sharpest fault line between the two frontrunners: their economic profiles.

Bloomberg gave a spirited defense of capitalism and essentially likened Sanders’ policies to communism.

“I’m not a communist, Mr. Bloomberg,” Sanders hit back at the former New York City mayor, calling it a “cheap shot.”

Bloomberg described himself as “lucky’ to have become a success and said “a good chunk of it” goes to paying taxes.

Sanders talked about how the richest Americans are benefitting from a form of “democratic socialism” that provides million in subsidies, so they can consolidate wealth while the poor are scrapping under a system of “rugged individualism” that shuts them out of economic opportunities.

Bloomberg said he worked hard to get what he has achieved but Sanders said he owes some of that success is due to the workers at his company that helped build his fortune.

Bloomberg then slammed Bloomberg as a millionaire who owns three homes.

Pete Buttigieg, who criticized Bernie Sanders as too radical, was asked about the award-winning essay he wrote in high school praising Sanders as a “profile in courage” for calling himself a socialist.

Buttigieg was asked why the change of mind – and whether that puts him out of step with his own generation since many millennials are comfortable with socialism.

It’s true, Buttigieg said, winning a laugh from Sanders, that “I was into Bernie before he was cool.”

But, Buttigieg added, he’d never written that he agreed with Sanders’ policies. But at least he was straight forward about what he believed in.

Pivoting to an attack, Buttigieg said Sanders has been clear that taxes will go up to pay for his health care plan, Medicare for All.

Sanders countered that people’s overall costs would go down because they wouldn’t pay anything for their health care.

Buttigieg shot back that Sanders hasn’t explained where he would get all the money to make sure that’s true.

Bernie Sanders slammed Michael Bloomberg’s wealth in an extended debate over taxes and what he described as the “grotesque level of income and wealth inequality” in the United States.

“That’s wrong, that’s immoral,” Sanders said, noting that Bloomberg’s wealth vastly overshadows the earnings of virtually all Americans.

The back-and-forth was ostensibly over the nation’s tax code, and a desire from Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to raise taxes on the wealthy. Bloomberg said he was proud of the money he has earned – “I work very hard for it,” he said – and added that he strongly opposed the tax proposals supported by the liberal wing of the party.

“I can’t think of a way to make it easier for Donald Trump to get reelected than listening to this conversation,” Bloomberg said in an exasperated voice. Bloomberg said the country had tried “communism” and that it “just didn’t work.”

Mostly glossed over in the exchange: That Bloomberg has spent hundreds of millions of dollars of his own money to raise his profile in Super Tuesday states.

Joe Biden delivered a criticism of Mike Bloomberg but those unaware of his reference wouldn’t have known that’s what he was doing. It took the moderator to bring out the attack.

In a question about how his policies would affect small, minority-owned businesses, Biden brought up the discriminatory housing practice known as “redlining.”

It wasn’t redlining, but the greed of Wall Street, that caused the 2008 financial crisis, Biden said. That was an allusion to comments Bloomberg made in 2008 in which he said the crisis was started because banks were pressured to end redlining.

Asked by the moderator about that comment, Bloomberg called the idea that redlining caused the crisis exactly wrong. He added that he’s been on the record opposing redlining, a practice that is still going on in some places “and we’ve got to cut it out.”

Bernie Sanders defended his Green New Deal as the only real solution to the “existential threat” posed by climate change.

“This is a moral issue, my friends,” he said. “We have responsibility of making sure that the planet, we leave our children and grandchildren, as healthy and habitable.”

The plan, criticized by Republicans and moderate Democrats as a radical plan that would threaten the economy, has been a signature policy of Sanders and other progressives.

Most Democrats on the debate stage are not on board with the Green New deal though they support aggressive steps to reduce carbon emissions that lead to climate change, starting with the defeat of President Donald Trump who has questioned the science behind climate change and has called for expanded oil drilling and mining.

“Let’s be real. The deadline is not 2050. It’s not 2040. It’s not 2030. It’s 2020,” said former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “Because if we don’t elect a president who actually believes in climate science now We will never meet any of the scientific or policy deadlines” to combat global warming.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign stated they had the “best hour of fundraising” of her campaign so far after the first hour of Wednesday's debate.

The campaign says they have a goal to raise $7 million before Saturday’s Nevada caucuses.

During the halfway point, she was also the most tweeted about candidate.

That, my friends, was the Warren campaign’s best hour of fundraising *to date*. Keep it up. #DemDebatehttps://t.co/9cEkkJUQVF

Michael Bloomberg’s policies targeting communities of color and his non-disclosure agreements with a number of women over potential harassment claims at his company are bad enough, according to Bernie Sanders.

But that’s not the only reason he’s a bad choice to take on Donald Trump in November, Sanders said.

The Vermont senator went after Bloomberg on his political past as a Republican who endorsed President George W. Bush in 2004 and gave a small fortune to Republican causes for years,

And, “maybe we can talk about a billionaire saying that we should not raise the minimum wage, or that we should cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid,” Sanders said.

Bloomberg switched to the GOP to run for mayor but later switched in the middle of his tenure to run as an independent. He became a Democrat in 2018 and started funding Democratic candidates and causes.

A question to Amy Klobuchar about her failure to identify the president of Mexico in a recent interview led to a back-and-forth with Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren coming to her female colleague’s defense.

Klobuchar said she had “momentary forgetfulness” that doesn’t reflect what she knows about Mexico and how much she cares about it.

Buttigieg countered that Klobuchar is staking her candidacy on her Washington experience and she failed to name Mexico’s president when she’s on the Senate committee that oversees trade and border security

“Are you trying to stay that I’m dumb? Are you mocking me?” Klobuchar asked Buttigieg. “People sometimes forget names.”

Warren jumped in to agree that forgetting a name happens to everyone and doesn’t by itself “indicate that you don’t understand what’s going on.”

Michael Bloomberg came under rapid fire from the rest of the field over his past comments about women and the way women have been treated at his company in an exchange that will almost certainly be seen as a key moment in the debate.

Bloomberg said his company, Bloomberg LP, had “no tolerance for the kind of behavior the Me Too movement has exposed.”

But Elizabeth Warren quickly followed up, pressing Bloomberg on how many women who worked for him were subject to non-disclosure agreements and unable to talk about harassment and abuse in the workplace.

“I hope you heard what his defense was: ‘I’ve been nice to some women,’” Warren said. “The mayor needs to stand on his record.”

Warren – and then Joe Biden – urged Bloomberg to release women from the non-disclosure agreements on stage, which Bloomberg declined to do. Warren described the women as being “muzzled” by the NDAs.

“They decided, when they made an agreement, that they wanted to keep it quiet for everyone’s interest,” Bloomberg said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s prosecutorial record was questioned during Wednesday’s debate when moderators asked her why black voters should trust her given some of her past cases that have recently been drawn to light.

Specifically, Klobuchar had to defend her record regarding the case when an 11-year-old girl was killed by a stray bullet while doing homework at her dining room table in 2002.

Klobuchar’s office put Tyesha Edwards’ alleged killer, a black teen at the time, behind bars for life.

New reports from the Associated Press show that Myon Burrell, the alleged killer, may have been wrongfully convicted.

Klobuchar said that all evidence from the case, old and new, should be reviewed.

She also continued that she has to “earn” the vote of African American voters across the nation, but has done so in her community.

Michael Bloomberg, who has been on an apology tour for his controversial ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ policing program that targeted minority communities in high-crime neighborhoods in New York City, became defensive on the debate stage.

Both Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren went after the former mayor, saying its efforts to go after community of colors proved to be a mistake that unfairly persecuted the city’s most vulnerable residents.

"The policy was abhorrent,” said Biden, who added that the program only stopped after President Barack Obama sent monitors to stop the program.

“When the mayor says that he apologized, listen closely to the apology,” Warren chimed in. “This isn’t about how it turned out, this is about what it was designed to do to begin with…. If you want to issue a real apology, then the apology has to start with the intent of the plan as it was put together and the willful ignorance day by day by day of admitting what was happening even as people protested in your own street.”

Bloomberg responded that the policy was already in place in some form before he became mayor and that the number of deaths per year in the city dropped from 650 to 300 due in part to Stop and Frisk.

"I've asked for forgiveness, but the bottom line is that we stopped too many people,” he said. “But there is no great answer to a lot of problems and if we took off everybody that was wrong on this panel, everybody that was wrong on criminal justice at some time in the careers, nobody else would be up here.”

A battle that broke out earlier this week on the campaign trail between Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg over their heart health made an appearance on the debate stage. Sanders was asked whether his decision to withhold additional medical records despite suffering a heart attack in October undercut his vow for transparency.

Sanders noted that he had released some documents and tried to quickly shift attention to Bloomberg, who had two coronary stents placed in 2000 after a positive stress test. Bloomberg fired back that the operation was 20 years ago.

Sanders suggested that Bloomberg follow him around on the campaign trail for several days and “see how you’re doing compared to me.”

The candidates got heated over recent attacks from some of Sen. Bernie Sanders most vocal supports, known as “Bernie bros”

Pete Buttigieg claimed Sanders was “at war with the [Nevada’s] Culinary Union” after some of the Vermont Senator's supporters reportedly threatened members for criticizing Sanders' "Medicare for All" plan.

“We are all responsible for our supporters and need to step up,” he said, continuing that the attacks are a reflection of what Sanders leadership is drawing out of them.

Sanders responded that his campaign has "have more union support than you have ever dreamed of" while addressing the “Bernie bros” attacks.

“If there are a few people who make ugly remarks, who attack union leaders, then I disown those people. They are not part of our movement,” he said.

However, he said that this isn't an issue specific to his campaign, telling the other candidates to look at the attacks members of his campaign have faced, especially those towards African American women.

The Culinary Union represents 60,000 housekeepers, porters and bartenders working in Las Vegas casinos. At the top of the union’s presidential asks is to maintain the robust health care plans members have fought hard to negotiate and win.

The union announced last week that it would not endorse a candidate ahead of the caucuses this Saturday.

Sanders, asked if Nevada’s powerful Culinary Union’s criticism of his health care plan is correct, had a simple answer.

The union fears workers that under Medicare for All they would have to give up their hard-fought health care benefits for coverage that might not be as good.

Sanders promised never to sign a bill that would give them worse benefits.

“We will only expand for them, for every union in America for the working class of this country,” Sanders said.

The union has circulated flyers saying Medicare for All would “end Culinary Healthcare” but chose not to endorse any of the candidates who offer an alternative approach.

Elizabeth Warren, who backs a version of Medicare for All, went after the more moderate plans of her competitors. She dismissed Pete Buttigieg’s “Medicare for all who want it” proposal as a powerpoint plan. Amy Klobuchar’s health care proposal, Warren sniffed, is nothing more than a post-it note.

Klobuchar said she took personal offense at that because “post-it notes were invented in my state.”

The first moments of the Democratic debate in Las Vegas have been far sharper than any other so far in the race of the Democratic nomination – for good reason.

Michael Bloomberg has hit Bernie Sanders as too liberal to win in the general election. Elizabeth Warren attacked Bloomberg and described Amy Klobuchar’s health care plan as a “Post-it note.” Pete Buttigieg called Sanders and Bloomberg the two most polarizing figures on the stage.

“Can I just say I take personal offense because Post-it notes were invited in my state,” joked Klobuchar, who represents Minnesota in the Senate.

“You don’t put your money on a number that’s not even on the wheel,” Klobuchar fired back on health care, arguing that the Medicare-for-All plans supported by Sanders and Warren were unrealistic.

The sharp elbows underscored the sea changes taking place in the presidential campaign, compounding the long-running divide in the party between the more centrist candidates like Joe Biden and Buttigieg and liberals like Sanders and Warren. Not only is Bloomberg rearranging that narrative with his first appearance on stage -- and his momentum in polling -- but the race has become more defined by Sanders’ narrow win in New Hampshire and his virtual tie with Buttigieg in Iowa.

That means several of the candidates – including Bloomberg and Sanders – are suddenly targets for the rest of the field. Others, including Biden and Klobuchar, are battling for a performance that would allow them to place in the Nevada caucuses this weekend.

The first big shot at Michael Bloomberg came from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren who slammed the former New York City mayor.

Democrats should not nominate someone who is “hiding his tax returns of harassing women and of supporting racist policies like redlining and stop and frisk.” Or a ““billionaire who calls women fat broads and horseface lesbians.”

Warren, who is trailing in the polls, came out fiercely, saying it would be a mistake to nominate Bloomberg because "Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one billionaire for another." a reference to Trump

Blomberg, who has apologized for the ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ policing policy that targeted neighborhoods of color in New York, emphasized his electability.

“I think we have two questions to face tonight. One is, who can beat Donald Trump. And number two, we can do the job as they get into the White House,” he said. “I would argue that I am the candidate that can do exactly most of those things. I'm a New Yorker, I know how to take on an arrogant con man like Donald Trump comes from New York.”

Pete Buttigieg, in his first chance at-bat, said the party is facing the prospect of the only candidates being left standing after Super Tuesday being Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg – whom he called the two most polarizing figures on the stage.

Most Americans will feel left out if forced to choose between a socialist who thinks capitalism is the root of all evil and a billionaire who thinks money is the root of all power.

"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," Buttigieg said. "We can do better."

Michael Bloomberg, who has repeatedly taken fire from President Donald Trump since entering the race for the Democratic nomination, delivered some of it back to the president on the stage early in the debate.

Saying he was speaking as a “New Yorker,” Bloomberg said he knew how to “take on arrogant con man like Donald Trump.”

“I know how to run a complicated city, the biggest, most diverse city in this country,” Bloomberg said. “I'm a philanthropist who didn't inherit his money, but made his money.”

In the early moments of a debate that started off far more feisty than the previous exchanges between the candidates, Bloomberg has been forced to both introduce his campaign and explain during the debate why he is best qualified to beat Trump, should he win the nomination.

The first question of the ninth debate was about former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was making his first appearance on the stage.

Bernie Sanders, who is leading in the polls, was asked why he’s a better candidate to beat President Donald Trump than Bloomberg, who is pitching himself as a centrist.

Sanders said beating Trump will require the largest voter turnout in history and Bloomberg can’t do that because of his past support for the controversial “stop-and-frisk” police strategy.

Sanders that “went after the African American and Latino people in an outrageous way.”

By contrast, Sanders said, he’s bringing together people of all races and backgrounds around and agenda that works for all everyone and “not just the billionaire class.”

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made his debut remarks in a Democratic debate by slamming Sen. Bernie Sanders, suggesting that the Vermont senator could not build a winning coalition to take on President Donald Trump.

Bloomberg said Sanders couldn’t win by basing his campaign largely on a health care plan that he said would force millions of Americans to switch off their private coverage.

“That’s just not a way that you go and start building a coalition,” Bloomberg said in his first remarks on the debate stage.

If Sanders wins the nomination, Bloomberg said, “We will have Donald Trump for another four years.”

LAS VEGAS – The Republican National Committee has bought a mobile billboard that will roam the Strip during tonight’s Democratic debate.

Rolling up and down Las Vegas Boulevard from 5-10 p.m., the board will attack Democrats and celebrate President Donald Trump.

A graphic on the billboard shows a chair being thrown at Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez. The image references the 2016 Nevada State Democratic Party convention, where Bernie Sanders supporters allegedly threw chairs.

Another graphic touts Trump’s economic performance in the White House, showing the president in a thumbs-up pose.

The Republican National Committee has bought a mobile billboard that will roam the Strip during tonight’s Democratic debate. (Photo: Provided by Trump Victory)

“President Trump has delivered to Nevada,” the sign reads, offering a list: “Record low unemployment rates… More than 125,000 jobs … A $1,300/year tax cut to Nevada workers and families.”

“President Trump has delivered for Silver State and Nevadans have no interest in a socialist agenda,” Trump Victory spokesman Keith Schipper said in a statement.

The mobile billboard even has a name: “DNC’s Big Rig.”

Do you have President Barack Obama on your debate bingo card?

He could be a popular topic given how often he’s come up lately in the Democrats’ nominating contest.

A lot of that is driven by ads from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg touting Obama’s past praise for Bloomberg.

The ads are so convincing -- and ubiquitous -- that former Obama aides have said they’ve been asked when Obama endorsed Bloomberg. The ads have also annoyed some of those aides because Bloomberg didn’t endorse Obama in 2008 and gave what they saw as a sub-par endorsement in 2012.

“Welcome to the debates, Mike. We have a lot to catch up on about Barack Obama’s record,” tweeted former Vice President Joe Biden Wednesday.

The video that accompanied that tweet included Bloomberg’s past criticisms of Obama’s signature health care law and his record on climate change -- among other clashes.

Pete Buttigieg, whose campaign has encouraged comparisons with Obama’s 2008 run, could bring up Obama with an attack on Bernie Sanders.

Buttigieg tweeted out Wednesday an article in The Atlantic about how close Sanders came to challenging Obama in the 2012 primary.

“Barack Obama was an excellent president,” Buttigieg tweeted. “What's disappointing is that someone in this race would suggest otherwise.”

While there’s been no shortage of discussion about health care in the previous eight Democratic debates, expect it to come up again tonight.

That’s because Medicare for All may be the best chance the center-left Democrats have of slowing Bernie Sanders’ momentum in Nevada.

Sanders’ costly and controversial plan worries the powerful Culinary Union, the state’s largest labor organization. The union fears workers would have to give up their hard-fought health care benefits for coverage that might not be as good.

The union has circulated flyers saying Medicare for All would “end Culinary Healthcare” but chose not to endorse any of the candidates who offer an alternative approach.

Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Joe Biden will likely look for opportunities on stage to criticize Sanders’ plan and plug their proposals to improve health care coverage.

Expect Sanders to argue that Medicare for All would help unions by taking health care off the table during contract negotiations.

Meanwhile, a group comprised of major drugmakers, insurance companies and private hospitals, is saying a pox on both your houses.

Partnership for America’s Health Care Future launched a new ad around the debate that criticizes the approaches of both Sanders’ and the more moderate Democrats. The ad says the proposals would result in higher taxes and lower-quality care.

Hours before the debate in Las Vegas, a new national poll is cutting into Joe Biden’s core argument that his electability and broad appeal makes him the Democratic presidential nominee best suited to defeat Donald Trump.

The former vice president’s support among “Democratic-leaning” registered voters dropped from 32% in the same Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in January to 16% in the poll released Wednesday. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders now leads with 32% (up 9 points from January), with former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg (14%) and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (12%) nipping at Biden’s heels.

The poll was conducted from Feb. 14-17 of 408 Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters, and it has a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percentage points.

One Oddsmaker doesn’t think much of Biden’s chances to win the nomination either.

Bovada, an online sports gambling site, puts his odds at +775, meaning someone who bets $100 on the former vice president to win the nomination would receive a payout of $775. On Jan. 1, Biden was the favorite at +200.

Sanders is now the favorite at +125, (he was +350 on Jan. 1) with Bloomberg close behind at +200. Warren has plummeted from +450 to +6600, well behind 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton who comes in at +2000, the same as Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Although Biden is not expected to do very well in Saturday’s Nevada Caucuses, one poll shows him leading the Feb. 29 South Carolina primary where he has invested time and resources truing to woo the state’s racially diverse electorate.

The poll, released by the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion, found that 23% of likely voters in South Carolina’s Democratic primary support Biden compared to 21 percent for Sanders. Billionaire Tom Steyer, who will not be on Wednesday’s debate stage, is third with 13%.

The poll of 400 voters has an adjusted margin of error of plus or minus 7.5 percent.

LAS VEGAS – Hours before the Democratic debate will unfold in a nearby Strip theater, Carol Dunitz stood outside Paris Las Vegas dressed like Uncle Sam.

She toted a sign with a message for passing tourists to see: “Dump the Trump in 2020.”

An Ann Arbor, Michigan, native with a doctorate in speech and theatre, Dunitz is the writer of “2020 The Musical,” a collection of 20 show tunes about dissecting political topics of the times: Global warming, reproductive rights and criminal justice reform among them.

Dunitz travels to all Democratic debates, promoting her musical and talking politics with anyone who cares to chat.

“Bloomberg or Sanders,” Dunitz said of her candidates, though her choice often changes.

Former New York City mayor has a chance, because “he’s more centrist,” Dunitz said. “That’s why the powers that be like him.”

While many candidates are running Spanish language ads in Nevada it’s unlikely you’ll hear much Spanish on stage tonight.

Pete Buttigieg is the only candidate left who speaks Spanish.

The first candidate to speak Spanish at a debate was former Rep. Beto O’Rourke who, at the first debate last June, answered a question about tax rates in Spanish. Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker also threw in some Spanish that night. Booker’s best bilingual performance came in September when he was asked whether more Americans should follow his vegan diet.

“First of all, I want to say, `no,’” Booker responded. “Actually, I want to translate that into Spanish. `No.’”

One of Buttigieg’s Nevada ads translates the phonetic pronunciation of his name – Boot-edge-edge – into Spanish: Bt-ech-ech.

Buttigieg’s uncommon last name is Maltese and his Nevada ads emphasize that he is the son of an immigrant.

Likewise, Bernie Sanders, whose father immigrated from Europe, reminds voters of his immigrant roots in one of his Nevada ads.

About three in ten Nevadans are Latinos and nearly two in ten residents are foreign-born, according to the U.S. Census.

There appears to be no shortage of beefs that other Democratic candidates have with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Let’s start with the fact that Bloomberg didn’t become a Democrat until 2018.

“I don’t endorse Republicans,” former Vice President Joe Biden tweeted Wednesday in response to a Bloomberg video showing Biden’s past praise for the former mayor.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren last week said Bloomberg “should not be the leader of our party” because of comments he made in 2008 about the financial crisis. Bloomberg said the crisis was started because banks were pressured to end the discriminatory housing practice known as “redlining.”

Warren and other Democrats have also accused Bloomberg of trying to buy the nomination through the unprecedented hundreds of millions of dollars he’s already spent. And she’s charged him with overseeing, as mayor, “a program that surveilled and tracked Muslim communities in mosques, restaurants, and even college campuses.”

Shortly before the debate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders circulated a video of comments Bloomberg made in 2012 about decreasing benefits or raising the eligibility age of Medicare and Social Security.

“Let’s have some austerity for billionaires,” Sanders says at the end of the video.

Bloomberg, in his first appearance on the debate stage, could also get asked about:

But Bloomberg isn’t shying from battle. His campaign has circulated a video criticizing the harassing “energy” of some of Sanders’ supporters. His aides are also warning that it’s almost too late for Democrats to coalesce behind an alternative to Sanders to stop him from getting the nomination.

Questions about age and health generally have rumbled below the surface as the candidates vie for the Democratic presidential nomination. Even when Bernie Sanders, 78, suffered a heart attack in October, his quick return to the campaign trail quieted any public concerns.

But when asked Tuesday during a CNN town hall whether he would provide more of his medical records, the Vermont senator demurred.

“I think we have released a detailed medical report, and I’m comfortable on what we have done," he told moderator Anderson Cooper.

Wednesday’s debate crew is not only smaller (seven candidates in the last one versus six) and less ethnically diverse (no minorities this time) but older as well.

Gone are entrepreneur Andrew Yang, 45, and businessman Tom Steyer, 62. Arriving is former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg, 78. That means four of the six candidates on stage (Bloomberg, Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren) will be at least 70.

On Wednesday, Sanders' national press secretary, Briahna Gray, told CNN that questions about the Vermont senator’s health were "reminiscent" of those raised about other candidates, "questioning where they're from, aspects of their lineage, etc."

"None of the same concern is being demonstrated for Michael Bloomberg, who's the same age as Bernie Sanders, who's suffered heart attacks in the past," she said.

In a statement, Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said it was an "absolute lie that Mike had heart attacks" and called Gray's claim "completely false."

Sheekey said Bloomberg, 78, had two coronary stents placed in 2000 after a positive stress test. Bloomberg released a letter from his doctor Stephen Sisson in December saying he was in "outstanding health" and in "great physical shape."

"There are no medical concerns, present or looming, that would prevent him from serving as President of the United States," Sisson wrote.

In a Twitter post Wednesday, Gray said she "misspoke" about Bloomberg having a heart attack and said Bloomberg "underwent the same stent procedure as Bernie."

Bloomberg's heart procedure was a preventive measure, whereas Sanders' was conducted after the candidate had a heart attack.

WASHINGTON – Five familiar faces and one new one take the Democratic debate stage tonight in Las Vegas.

That should generate a lot of fireworks as the returning candidates, who feel like they've been put through the paces from the past eight debates and months of campaigning, get their first chance to test former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Bloomberg is making his first appearance, despite the fact that he is not on the ballot in Nevada, which caucuses Saturday.

But while Bloomberg is skipping the first four states to vote in Democrats' presidential nominating contest, he is spending heavily across the country.

That earned him enough support in polls to qualify for the debate after the Democratic National Committee last month changed the entry rules that had included donor requirements. Bloomberg, who has already spent more on advertising than President Barack Obama spent on ads during his entire 2012 re-election campaign, is self-funding his bid.

The next-richest Democrat in the contest, activist Tom Steyer, will not be in the debate. He failed to win at least one delegate in Iowa or New Hampshire or show support of 10 percent or more in four qualifying polls. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii also did not qualify.

The candidates getting their first chance to spar with Bloomberg are Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

There are five moderators: NBC anchor Lester Holt, "Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd, NBC News Chief White House Correspondent Hallie Jackson, Noticias Telemundo Senior Correspondent Vanessa Hauc and Jon Ralston of The Nevada Independent.

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