LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – The Democratic presidential contenders begin a frantic dash for votes on Thursday after a fiery debate featuring a volley of attacks on big-spending billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who was making his debut on the national debate stage.
With two days to go before the presidential caucuses in Nevada and contests looming in 14 states on Super Tuesday on March 3, including California, Utah and Colorado, the candidates will scatter across those four states for rallies and get-out-the vote events.
The intensity of the unsettled Democratic race was evident in Wednesday’s debate, which featured repeated attacks on Bloomberg for his record on race, history of sexist comments and use of his fortune to push his way up the polls.
The former New York City mayor, who has been rising fast in polls since he joined the race in November, seemed uncomfortable and hesitant at times in his first debate. He defended his record and argued he had the best chance of beating Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election.
Rivals Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg all leaped at the chance to go after the media mogul, who has surged in polls by spending hundreds of millions of dollars out of his own pocket on an advertising blitz.
They criticized Bloomberg, who has been accused over the years of sexist comments, for his treatment of women as well as his support while mayor of “stop-and-frisk” police policies that ensnared disproportionate numbers of blacks and Latinos.
The candidates also accused Bloomberg of trying to buy his way into the White House and said his record as mayor and businessman was not good enough to beat Trump.
“Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another,” said Warren, a senator from Massachusetts who had her most aggressive debate.
Nevada’s caucuses are the third contest in the state-by-state race to find a challenger to Trump. South Carolina holds its primary on Feb. 29.
Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has a town hall meeting and a fundraiser scheduled in Los Angeles, and Bloomberg has a morning event in Utah.
Warren and Biden will have a town hall that airs on CNN on Thursday night from Las Vegas. Klobuchar, a senator from Minnesota, has a campaign event in Colorado.
Bloomberg entered the race in November and is skipping the early voting states in February.
Trump delivered his judgment on Bloomberg’s performance with a tweet late on Wednesday: “He was stumbling, bumbling and grossly incompetent. If this doesn’t knock him out of the race, nothing will.”
Reporting by Tim Reid and Simon Lewis in Nevada, Ginger Gibson and John Whitesides in Washington; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall