Michael Bloomberg's First Democratic Debate in Nevada May Be Most Contentious One Yet

The ninth Democratic primary debate Wednesday could be the most contentious one yet as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg steps on stage for the first time this election cycle.

Bloomberg qualified for the Nevada debate after meeting the Democratic National Committee's mandated polling threshold Tuesday. He will appear alongside former Vice President Joe Biden, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

It will be the first time that Bloomberg is forced to directly face his 2020 rivals, nearly all of whom have ramped up their attacks on the 78-year-old billionaire during the past few days. Those criticisms, which range from his record-breaking ad campaign to his past policing policies, are likely to carry over to the debate stage, New York-based political consultant Hank Sheinkopf told Newsweek.

"What you'll see is an attempt to cut him down because he is on the move," Sheinkopf said.

Bloomberg is set to join the debate process amid a surge in national polling. A survey released Tuesday from NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist showed him in second place with 19 percent support among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. It was a 15-point jump from Bloomberg's standing in the group's poll in December.

"Whenever someone's on the move at that quick a pace, the opponents will try to take that person down because they are coming to the end of the battle. If they can't take him down Wednesday night and they get to Super Tuesday, everything might change," Sheinkopf added.

Unlike his Democratic rivals, Bloomberg has chosen not to compete in the four early-voting states. Instead, his plan is to run a more broad-based, national campaign in order to capture the delegates that vote on Super Tuesday and beyond.

That strategy has allowed him to slide under the radar of his opponents as they battle each other in states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. But Bloomberg's recent rise has made him impossible to ignore.

The former mayor has personally spent more than $300 million in television advertising nationwide, which is more than the rest of the Democratic candidates combined. He plans to spend $1 billion of his own fortune over the next few months to secure the party's nomination and defeat Donald Trump for the presidency.

The unprecedented spending has caused his rivals to accuse him of trying to "buy" the election. Sanders, for example, called the spending "precisely what the corruption of the American political system is all about." And Klobuchar argued that Bloomberg should be able to "hide behind airwaves and huge ad buys."

On Tuesday afternoon, Senator Warren lashed out at him, tweeting that it's a "shame that Mike Bloomberg can buy his way into the debate," and adding that voters will now get a live demonstration on how each of the Democratic candidates "take on an egomaniac billionaire."

Other candidates have taken aim at Bloomberg's past policies and remarks. Biden has slammed the former mayor over his implementation of "stop-and-frisk" policing and promised to debate him on the policy on Wednesday. Buttigieg took aim at recent reports that Bloomberg made sexist comments in the past, saying that it's critical to have a " nominee who can authentically lead and who can show growth on these challenges."

mike bloomberg 2020 debate
Democratic presidential candidate former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg delivers remarks during a campaign rally on February 12, 2020, in Nashville, Tennessee. Brett Carlsen/Getty

Bloomberg has largely been on the offensive since launching his campaign in November, although most of his strikes have been aimed at Trump. The two traded insults over Twitter last week, with Bloomberg describing the president as a "carnival barking clown." But with his star rising in the primary race, the former mayor seems ready to flip that strategy to his Democratic rivals.

On Monday, the Bloomberg campaign posted a video offering an unflattering comparison of Sanders to President Trump. The video showed examples of online threats from Sanders supporters toward other 2020 Democrats. Bloomberg posted the clip to Twitter with the caption: "We need to unite to defeat Trump in November. This type of 'energy' is not going to get us there."

Bloomberg qualified for the Nevada debate at the final hour, meeting the Democratic National Committee's mandated polling threshold on Tuesday. He failed to qualify for any of the primary debates because he is not accepting outside campaign contributions. But new rules adopted by the DNC ditched the donor requirement previously needed to participate.

Bloomberg's campaign manager Kevin Sheekey confirmed Tuesday that Bloomberg would participate in the event.

"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," Sheekey said in a statement. "The opportunity to discuss his workable and achievable plans for the challenges facing this country is an important part of the campaign process."

Ninth DNC debate canidates Statista
Ninth DNC debate candidates. Statista