Six Democratic presidential candidates are facing off in Las Vegas on Wednesday for the debate before the high-stakes caucuses in Nevada.
Heading to the stage are Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar; the former vice-president Joe Biden; the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor, Pete Buttigieg; and, for the first time, the former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The billionaire is the wild card on stage, having sat out the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire and communicating mostly with voters through TV ads and scripted public events. He’s expected to be among the main targets of his Democratic rivals, who have fiercely criticized him before the event.
Bloomberg entered the race late last year and has been climbing in polls after spending more on ads than any candidate in US political history. He qualified for the debate on Tuesday, after a new national NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll showed him in second place at 19%.
He was able to qualify following a controversial decision by the Democratic National Committee to remove the requirement that candidates have a certain number of individual donors. Bloomberg’s campaign is self-funded.
In the days before the debate, Warren said it was a shame that Bloomberg could “buy his way” in, adding that it would at least give the candidates a chance to demonstrate “how we each take on an egomaniac billionaire”.
Bloomberg’s campaign also clashed with several others. Last week, the former mayor’s organization attacked Sanders with a new ad, as the senator increasingly criticized him on the campaign trail, telling supporters: “We are a democracy, not an oligarchy.”
As the debate approached, Bloomberg’s rivals doubled down on their critiques. Biden criticized Bloomberg for incorporating Barack Obama into his ads even though he did not endorse the president in 2008. And Bloomberg’s campaign criticized Bernie Sanders’ press secretary for falsely claiming that Bloomberg had previously suffered heart attacks, as Sanders faces renewed scrutiny over his health.
The debate at the Paris Theater in Vegas comes one week after Sanders won the New Hampshire primary, setting the stage for a primary battle between the Vermont senator and the more moderate candidates. On the heels of a strong performance in the chaotic Iowa caucuses, Buttigieg came in a close second in New Hampshire, where Klobuchar’s unexpected surge won her third place, and Warren and Biden both experienced disappointing results.
Buttigieg and Klobuchar, the more centrist candidates from the midwest, are looking to broaden their coalitions in states like Nevada that are significantly more diverse than Iowa and New Hampshire.
Biden’s campaign has deployed additional staff to Nevada, hoping the caucus will deliver some sort of comeback after his poor performance in the first two states led to a significant drop in his national poll numbers. Recent polls have shown Sanders in the lead in Nevada.
Nevada is nearly 30% Latino and 10% black and has become increasingly Democratic in recent years. The state also has a strong record of supporting women in office and was the first in the country to have a majority-female legislature.
With the long-shot candidate Andrew Yang out of the race, the debate once again features an all white lineup.
On Wednesday afternoon, supporters of the candidates lined up outside the Paris Theater. “This is the biggest election of our lifetime,” said Linda Gannon, a
49-year-old Vegas resident who showed up to the debate hoping to get a
seat to see Buttigieg, her top choice. “I’m a bit worried about him in
Nevada, but I think he’s got a shot. I feel confident any of the
Democrats can beat Trump. We have to feel that way, and I will support
any of them.”
Lorraine Oliver, a 68-year-old public health nurse in line to get into
the debate, said she recently got a chance to meet Warren in person
and was sold.
“She has such in-depth knowledge. But she’s not polling as well as I’d
like. I need her to shoot up in the polls,” she said, adding: “I’m
excited for an opportunity to get rid of Trump. He’s done enough to
make people angry. We’re gonna fight back.”
Also on line were several Andrew Yang fans who said they were
continuing to advocate for their favorite candidate, even though he has
already suspended his campaign.
“It’s larger than him. It’s about his movement,” said Hannah Won,
a 37-year-old arts advocate.
“He’s still doing well, and I’m still here representing Yang,” added
Emilio Medina. “His entire movement is bigger than the the