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Nevada debate: Why Democrat top priority is landing a hit on Bloomberg

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  • Billionaire Mike Bloomberg will take to the Democratic primaries debate stage for the first time on Wednesday night. 
  • He is surging in national polls after pouring $400 million of his own money into thousands of ads and an extensive network of campaign operatives.
  • Rivals pitching themselves as moderates will likely hone in on controversial statements from Bloomberg’s past in an attempt to pull ahead.
  • Bloomberg is a seasoned political debater, and will be looking to capitalize on his momentum and establish himself as a frontrunner alongside Bernie Sanders.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Billionaire Mike Bloomberg enters his first Democratic presidential debates in Nevada tonight.

Once on the debate stage he will be the candidate a clutch of rivals seeking the support of moderate Democrats are most desperate to stop.

The former New York mayor has surged in national polls, earning himself a spot on the Nevada stage just a couple of days ago.

The surge has been powered by a $400-million-dollar spending spree, using his own cash on ads promoting his candidacy and attacking President Donald Trump.

He’s also put in place an extensive network of campaign officials to rapidly develop his operation on the ground. 

Despite entering the race as long as a year after some of his rivals, Bloomberg is polled second in a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, winning support from 19% of voters and coming in behind only Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. 

For rivals on the moderate wing of the Democratic party the upcoming debates maybe their best — and perhaps only — chance of halting his momentum before the a slew of important primaries on March 3. 

Democratic debate

The Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky


They will likely be energized by the fact that the debate stage is a level playing field, where Bloomberg’s vast fortune confers him no advantage.

As his candidacy builds, controversial statements from the business magnate’s long career are attracting new attention, including on issues including stop-and-frisk policies, transgender rights, and of allegations of sexism.

They would be an obvious weakspot for his rivals to shoot for as they seek to portray themselves as best-placed to unite the party to defeat Trump. 

Bloomberg has struggled under even elementary interrogation from reporters. Rivals will likely hope that under sustained pressure, in front of a live TV audience, further cracks will show.

But one of his rivals would have to land a knockout blow to undermine Bloomberg — some kind of spontaneous moment of weakness that could be repackaged in attack videos and drive a damaging anti-Bloomberg news cycle. 

If they do not, Bloomberg, who is said to have prepared extensively for his first appearance on the debate stage, could turn being the focus of attention, however hostile, to his advantage. 

Bloomberg is a seasoned politician, and no stranger to the debate stage. 

Having reviewed the mayoral debates from Bloomberg’s three terms as mayor in New York (2001, 2005, 2009), David Drehle of The Washington Post concludes that Bloomberg probably fancies his chances against his rivals, who’ve so far not shown the rhetorical gifts needed to turn the Democratic debates into must-watch political spectacles. 

“Bloomberg’s style projects the brusque self-confidence and worldly competence of a self-made mega-billionaire. He’s not a pleaser — he has that in common with both Sanders and Trump,” writes von Drehle. 

He’s also got the funds to spend big on ads which may limit the damage done to him by rivals in the debates, and spin the events to his advantage.

Axios reported that Bloomberg’s campaign has already earmarked an astonishing $1.5 billion to buy ads in response to the debate.

Officials on the Bloomberg campaign are taking an aggressive, even taunting, stance by warning other moderates that they need to drop out fast and fall in behind him to prevent Sanders becoming the nominee. 

If Bloomberg weathers the storm, and cements his image as the candidate tough, rich, and ruthless enough to take down Trump in November, it could pay off big time in the delegates-rich Super Tuesday primaries, and leave other moderates with little to show for their months of effort while Bloomberg wasn’t even in the race.

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