Six US Democratic presidential candidates came out swinging in all directions on Wednesday night, but billionaire Michael Bloomberg and Senator Bernie Sanders were the main targets.
It was Bloomberg’s first debate since announcing his candidacy late last year, and for Americans, it was their first unscripted look at the media mogul and former New York City mayor whose campaign until now has been fuelled by hundreds of millions of dollars of self-funded television advertisements and carefully choreographed personal appearances.
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Senators Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg traded turns slamming Bloomberg for everything from his past comments about women to the controversial stop-and-frisk policy that escalated during his tenure as New York City mayor.
“We’re running against a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-face lesbians,” Warren said. “And, no, I’m not talking about [President] Donald Trump, I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”
“Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another,” she added.
Democratic presidential candidate Sanders makes a point as Warren and Bloomberg listen during the Democratic presidential primary debate at in Las Vegas, Nevada [Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP]
Bloomberg, who entered the race in November and is skipping the first four early-voting states in February to focus on later nominating contests in March, said he did not inherit his money but made it as a businessman.
“I’m spending that money to get rid of Donald Trump – the worst president we’ve ever had. And if I can get that done, it will be a great contribution to America and to my kids,” he said.
The debate also marked an important test for Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who has emerged as the frontrunner in the Democrats’ fight for the nomination to take on Trump in November. Sanders also came under heavy fire by his challengers who attacked him on everything from democratic socialism to questions over the price tag for his Medicare-for-all plan.
Buttigieg called Bloomberg and Sanders “the two most polarising figures on this stage”.
Wednesday night’s debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, came just three days before the state holds its caucuses, which will be closely watched after Iowa’s caucuses earlier this month resulted in chaos.
Two candidates – United States Representative Tulsi Gabbard and billionaire Tom Steyer – did not qualify the debate.
Here’s a look at what the six hopefuls said on some of the top issues in one of the liveliest debates of this campaign season.
Sanders opened Wednesday’s debate by saying the “stop-and-frisk” programme under Bloomberg “went after” African Americans and Hispanics, allowing police to unfairly target minorities.
Stop-and-frisk gave New York City police wide authority to detain people they suspected of committing a crime, and Bloomberg aggressively pursued the tactic when he first took over as mayor in 2002. Under the programme, New York City police officers made it a routine practice to stop and search multitudes of mostly black and Hispanic men to see if they were carrying weapons.
Biden said “the fact of the matter is [Bloomberg] has not managed his city very well” when he was mayor of New York City.
Democratic presidential hopeful former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the ninth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, Noticias Telemundo and The Nevada Independent at the Paris Theater in Las Vegas, Nevada [Mark Ralston/AFP]
“He didn’t get a whole lot done,” Biden said. “He had stop-and-frisk – throwing close to five million young African American men up against the wall – and when we came along in our administration, President [Barack] Obama and I said we’re going to send a mediator to stop it, he said that’s unnecessary.”
Bloomberg said the controversial policy represents the singular thing he’s “really worried about and embarrassed about” from his time as New York City mayor. He said he has repeatedly apologised for the policy.
But Biden said: “It’s not whether you apologise or not, it’s the policy. The policy was abhorrent. And it was, in fact, a violation of every right people have.”
Klobuchar was also asked to defend her record on criminal justice with moderators asking how voters of colour should trust her judgement after her handling of the case in which an African American teen was sentenced to life after a flawed police investigation.