Michael Bloomberg came under fierce attack from Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders within the first few minutes Wednesday's Democratic debate, taking hits on the exorbitant amount of money he has spent in the presidential race and the misogynistic comments he made about women in the 1980s and 1990s.
Sanders got the first opportunity to take on Bloomberg, and chose to critique the former New York mayor on his embrace of the controversial "stop and frisk" policing policy that disproportionately targeted blacks and Latinos.
"That is not a way that you are going to grow Latino turnout," Sanders said, adding that America needs an "agenda that works for us and not just the billionaire class."
Warren came in with an aggressive attack on Bloomberg's past history of sexist comments, alluding to reports that the mogul referred to women in his employ as ugly, fat and unattractive.
"I'd like to talk about who we're running against. 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," Warren said.
The sustained criticism from the Democratic candidates was an intense welcome to the race for Bloomberg, who has spent hundreds of millions on television ads and been holding campaign events without facing the heat of the debate stage as the other candidates have for months. The former New York City mayor has avoided the early states in the race in favor of running a more national primary campaign dependent on the Super Tuesday states that go to the polls in March.
Bloomberg is making his debut on the debate stage in Nevada, one of the four early states where he decided not to compete, after spending a stunning $419 million on television ads, which has helped him to meet the polling criteria set by the Democratic National Committee.
After a few minutes of intense criticism, Bloomberg snapped back that he does not believe "there's any chance whatsoever" that Sanders can win the presidential race against President Donald Trump, because of Sanders' support for "Medicare for All," which Bloomberg said would take away private insurance from 160 million people and replace it with a public plan.
"I don't think there's any chance whatsoever. And if he goes and is the candidate, we will have Donald Trump for another four years and we can't stand that," Bloomberg said.
Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg did not miss the moment to pile on, arguing that Democrats should not have to choose between Bloomberg, a former Republican, and Sanders, an avowed democratic socialist."Let's put forward somebody who is actually a Democrat," Buttigieg said to applause. "We shouldn't have to choose between a candidate who wants to burn this party down and one who wants to buy this party out."
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she had taken offense at a memo sent out by Bloomberg advisers suggesting that she and other lower-polling candidates should drop out.
"I've been told many times to wait my turn and just step aside, and I'm not going to do that now," Klobuchar said.
The candidates had telegraphed Wednesday that the former New York mayor's record on everything from policing techniques to his past party affiliation will be a central focus at the NBC debate on Wednesday at the Paris Theater in Las Vegas. Bloomberg leapfrogged former Vice President Joe Biden in new national poll from NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist, landing in second place with 19% behind Sanders, who drew 31%.
As Bloomberg has risen in the polls, he has confronted heavy media scrutiny of his record, providing ample fodder for his rivals to sift through during the debate. As they vie for minority voters, his rivals will be looking to highlight Bloomberg's support of New York City's "stop and frisk" policy as mayor, which disproportionately targeted black and Latino people.
Bloomberg has also been forced to confront misogynistic and sexually crude comments that he used in the workplace in the 1980s and 1990s, some of which ended up in discrimination lawsuits against him.
In a party that has worked hard to broadcast a message of inclusion to the LGBTQ community, Bloomberg referred to transgender people last year as "he, she, or it" and "some guy wearing a dress" while arguing that the party has become too deeply mired in social issues, as BuzzFeed first reported on Tuesday.
After the focus on Bloomberg and his record, the candidates launched into a vigorous debate over "Medicare for All," with Warren leading the charge in attacking other candidate's plans. Warren, who is attempting to mount a comeback as she continues to drop in the polls, described Buttigieg's health care plan as a "Power Point" presentation and compared Klobuchar's plan to a Post-it note.
But Warren went on criticize Sanders' handling of Medicare for All, charging that "his campaign relentlessly attacks everyone everyone who asks a question or asks a question or tries to fill in details about how to actually make this work," Warren said. "And then his own advisers say it probably won't happen anyway. Look, health care is a crisis in this country. ... We need as much help for as many people as quickly as possible."