Las Vegas mauling for big spender Bloomberg

Top News | 21 Feb 2020

Media mogul Michael Bloomberg faced attacks at his first Democratic presidential debate, with rivals assailing the fast-rising billionaire over his record on race, history of sexist comments and the use of his fortune to muscle his way into the contest.

In a rough debut in Las Vegas that gave voters a first unscripted look at the self-funding former New York mayor, Bloomberg seemed hesitant as he defended his record and argued he is the Democrats' best chance of beating Republican President Donald Trump.

Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg all lined up to go after Bloomberg, who has surged in polls helped by an unprecedented advertising blitz.

But they also heaped personal attacks on one another in the most contentious of the Democratic debates.

All of the contenders on stage accused former Republican Bloomberg, 78, of trying to buy his way into the White House and said his record as a mayor and businessman was not good enough to beat Trump.

"We're running against a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians," said senator Warren. "And, no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about mayor Bloomberg.

"Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another," she added.

Bloomberg has been accused over the years of many sexist and misogynistic comments, and several lawsuits have been filed alleging women were discriminated against at his media company.

He entered the race in November and was skipping early voting states to focus on nominating contests in March. And he was No 2 among Democrats behind Sanders in a new poll this week.

He said at the debate he was using his money for an important cause - "to get rid of 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."

The debate came three days before Nevada's presidential caucuses, the third in the state-by-state race to find a challenger to Trump in the November 3 election.

The high stakes were evident in intense exchanges, with Biden and Warren, in particular, needing to reignite their campaigns after poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Both Warren, who had her most aggressive debate, and Biden, the former vice president and one-time front-runner who lost ground to Sanders and Bloomberg in recent weeks, criticized Bloomberg for his treatment of women, and asked him to commit to releasing women who had signed non-disclosure deals to settle lawsuits.

Bloomberg refused, saying they were made "consensually" with an expectation they would stay private.

Sanders, also 78 and top of the polls, criticized Bloomberg's support for "stop-and-frisk" police policies as New York mayor that "went after African-American and Latino people in an outrageous way."

Bloomberg said he was "worried" about his past support for stop-and-frisk and he had apologized for supporting it.

On Sanders' economic ideas, such as requiring a share of firms to be owned by staff, Bloomberg said he could not think of an easier way to get Trump re-elected.

"We're not going to throw out capitalism," he said. "We tried that. Other countries tried. It was called communism and just didn't work."

Sanders called that "a cheap shot."

Bloomberg fired back. "The best-known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses."

Biden said on MSNBC that he told Bloomberg as they left the debate stage: "Welcome to the party, man."


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