Major Primary Debate Shake-Up As Mike Bloomberg Qualifies to Join Stage

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has secured a spot on the stage of Wednesday's Democratic primary debate, with a poll released today giving the billionaire the final push he needed to qualify.

Until now, Bloomberg has not qualified for a debate in the Democratic presidential race. However, after a recent change in qualification rules removing the requirement for individual donors, the former New York mayor was given the chance to participate in the upcoming Nevada debate.

The only catch was that the billionaire needed to top 10 percent in at least one more national poll.

On early Tuesday morning, Bloomberg more than achieved that goal, with a poll from NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist seeing him claim 19 percent of support.

Bloomberg was second only to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who led with a sweeping 31 percent of support in the new poll, which saw 1,416 adults surveyed from February 13 to February 16.

Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden was behind with 15 percent, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 12 percent, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar with 9 percent, while former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg came away with 8 percent of support.

New NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist national poll has a whole lot of ! attached to it.

Sanders 31%
Bloomberg 19%
Biden 15%
Warren 12%
Klobuchar 9%
Buttigieg 8%
(5.4 percentage point MOE)

— Zach Montellaro (@ZachMontellaro) February 18, 2020

For Bloomberg, the new poll sees the candidate meet qualification requirements for a candidate to have won at least one delegate in the first two contests, have four national polls giving them 10 percent or more of support or have two state polls from either Nevada or South Carolina giving the candidate 12 percent of more of support.

The new development brings a major shake-up to Wednesday's debate, as, so far, candidates have not had the chance to duel with Bloomberg on stage.

On Tuesday morning, Bloomberg's campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said the former New York mayor planned to rise to the challenge.

In a statement released shortly after the poll's results were published, Sheekey said the results were proof of the "groundswell of support across the country" Bloomberg's campaign appears to have attracted.

"Qualifying for the February 19 debate is the latest sign that Mike's plan and ability to defeat Donald Trump is resonating with more and more Americans," Sheekey said.

"Mike is looking forward to joining the other Democratic candidates on stage and making the case for why he's the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump and unite the country," he asserted. "The opportunity to discuss his workable and achievable plans for the challenges facing this country is an important part of the campaign process."

"Since Mike launched his campaign 13 weeks ago, he's met with voters in 25 states and 62 cities," Sheekey asserted. "Our crowds continue to grow, and our coalition continues to broaden. There's a desire in every corner of this country for a proven leader, for someone who will stand up to bullies and special interests and get things done. That person is Mike Bloomberg, and we look forward to more Americans seeing that on Wednesday night."

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates which candidates have qualified for the debate.

Ninth DNC debate canidates Statista
Ninth DNC debate canidates. Statista

The development comes as the billionaire's Democratic rivals have continued to ramp up criticisms of Bloomberg's record as he rises in the polls, with fellow Democratic presidential candidates honing in on his widely condemned stop-and-frisk policy during his time as New York mayor.

Klobuchar hit out at Bloomberg on Sunday in an appearance on CNN's State of the Union, noting to Dana Bash that she has not been "involved in some of the controversial issues in other states, like stop and frisk."

"I understand that that is unconstitutional," she added, in an apparent shot at Bloomberg.

The news that the billionaire plans to join Wednesday's debate will likely be well-received by Klobuchar, who also said on Sunday that she is an "advocate for him coming on the debate stage."

"I don't think you should be able to hide behind airwaves and huge ad buys. He has to come on these shows," she said. "And I also am an advocate for him coming on the debate stage. I know I'm not going to be able to beat him on the airwaves, but I can beat him on the debate stage, because I believe my argument for my candidacy is so much stronger."

Klobuchar is far from alone in attacking Bloomberg over his decision to finance his own campaign and funnel billions into advertising.

Mike Bloomberg
Democratic presidential candidate former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg delivers remarks during a campaign rally on February 12, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee.

"$60 billion can buy you a lot of advertising, but it can't erase your record," former Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview on NBC's Meet The Press.

"There's a lot to talk about with Michael Bloomberg," he said. " "You all are going to start focusing on him like you have on me, which I'm not complaining, like you have on me the last six months. You're going to focus on him. His position on issues relating to the African American community, from stop and frisk to the way he talked about [Barack] Obama."

While Biden acknowledged that Bloomberg had been an ally on certain issues, including addressing gun violence, during the Obama administration's time in power he noted that the billionaire "wouldn't even endorse Barack in 2008."

"He wouldn't endorse him. You know, he endorsed [George W.] Bush. He endorsed, you know, the Republican before that. All of a sudden he's his best buddy... and he would not endorse him."

In addition to facing scrutiny over his track record, Bloomberg has also faced backlash over the Democratic National Committee's decision to relax its debate criteria to no longer require candidates to meet donor requirements in order to participate.

As Democratic rivals were quick to note, the decision was of clear benefit to Bloomberg, who has refused to accept donations.

"They shouldn't change the rules to let a billionaire on," Warren said in a Twitter statement following the development.

"Billionaires shouldn't be allowed to play by different rules—on the debate stage, in our democracy, or in our government," she said.

Now, however, whether she and other Democratic hopefuls like it or not, Bloomberg appears ready to take his rivals on in Wednesday's debate.

Newsweek has contacted the campaign teams of Democratic presidential candidates for comment.

This article has been updated with more information on the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, as well as a statement from Mike Bloomberg's campaign team. This article was updated to include an infographic.