Nevada Democratic Debate

Live Analysis And Fact Check

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In the ninth Democratic primary debate, newcomer Mike Bloomberg was the target of constant attacks, from allegations of sexual harassment, to whether he and Bernie Sanders are authentic Democrats, to Bloomberg’s past criticism of Obamacare.

Ahead of Nevada’s caucuses on Saturday, all of the candidates were challenged on the issues, on their experience, even on their supporters’ behavior. Read the highlights of the night below.

That’s The Bell For A Debate That Felt Like A Vegas Boxing Match

Tonight’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas was as contentious as expected.

With Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg often leading the attacks, and with billionaire and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg facing withering criticisms from rivals, the six candidates held a sharp-elbowed contest that reflected the higher stakes of this phase of the primary.

Next up: more voting.

Nevada’s caucuses are Saturday, with polls showing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in a strong position. Sanders, who has led recent national surveys as well, came in first in the most recent nominating contest, in New Hampshire, and was in a virtual tie with Buttigieg for first in Iowa.

But the Democrats won’t have the Silver State to themselves these next few days. President Trump is in Nevada tomorrow for a ceremony at a nonprofit that helps people reenter society after incarceration, and then he hosts a campaign rally — the latest in his counterprogramming efforts to steal some of the Democratic primary’s spotlight.

Bloomberg, of course, is not on the ballot in Nevada. He heads to Utah tomorrow morning for a campaign event, with the race set to quickly become national as more than a dozen states vote on Super Tuesday, now in less than two weeks.

To catch up on the moments — and jabs — you missed, read on below. Also make sure you check out later on for debate takeaways from our Domenico Montanaro, and you can listen to a recap of the evening from the NPR Politics Podcast crew.

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Warren, Klobuchar Spoke Most In The Debate

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren ended the ninth Democratic presidential debate with the most speaking time of all six candidates, at 16 minutes and 36 seconds.

Warren engaged in several memorable moments throughout the evening, racking up almost an entire minute more than Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who spoke for 15 minutes and 48 seconds.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders came in third with 15 minutes and 18 seconds, followed by former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 14 minutes and 4 seconds of speaking time.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg spoke the least, with Biden coming in at 13 minutes and 25 seconds and Bloomberg at 13 minutes and 14 seconds.

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What Were They Talking About On Delegates?

Maybe the most confusing and consequential section of tonight’s debate was at the end, when moderator Chuck Todd of NBC asked the candidates if the pledged-delegate leader should be the nominee at the national convention or if they should adhere to the 50%-plus-one requirement to win the nomination.

Here’s what the candidates said and what it means:

  • Mike Bloomberg: Let the convention work its will.
  • Elizabeth Warren: All of the people’s votes should count.
  • Joe Biden: Let all the people’s votes count and work it out.
  • Pete Buttigieg: Let the process play out.
  • Amy Klobuchar: Let the process play out.
  • Bernie Sanders: The person with the most votes should be the nominee.

So, what does that mean? It means that all of the candidates think the party should adhere to the 50%-plus-one requirement — except Sanders. And that’s because Sanders is looking like the candidate with the inside track for the most delegates. But can he unify the party and get a majority of its delegates to go with him? (In 2016, by the way, Sanders didn’t feel the same way.)

Democratic insiders are worried that Sanders can’t win — that he can’t beat Trump. And even though superdelegates can’t vote on the first ballot this year, they can on the second. There are more than 700 of them — and they are looming out there.

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Amy Vs. Pete 2.0

As the debate came close to wrapping up, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg went back into the ring for a second round of intense exchanges — this time prompted by a question about immigration.

After Klobuchar called for comprehensive immigration reform — a key issue in Nevada, where Latino voters make up an important voting bloc — Buttigieg repeated a criticism of Klobuchar that she voted to confirm Trump’s nominee, Kevin McAleenan, as the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2018. Then Buttigieg began speaking in Spanish.

“I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete, but let me tell you what it’s like to be in the arena,” Klobuchar responded, again criticizing Buttigieg for his lack of national experience. Klobuchar said she has opposed the Trump administration’s family separation policy and would reverse it if elected president.

Buttigieg didn’t want to let the matter rest.

“I’m used to senators telling mayors that senators are more important than mayors. But this is the arena too,” Buttigieg hit back. He alluded to a city program he’d supported in South Bend. “You don’t have to be in Washington to matter.”

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All Eyes Now Turn To Caucus Day On Saturday

With the debate over, attention now turns to Nevada’s caucuses on Saturday, when 36 delegates are at stake.

Check-in will begin at 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET at the almost 2,100 precincts, and the caucuses are scheduled to start at 12 p.m. PT/3 p.m. ET.

Democrats across the state will use new technology for the first time to integrate into the process the nearly 75,000 early votes that were cast this week.

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Biden: I’m The Only Candidate To Have Beaten McConnell On Major Issues

Another shared foil for Democrats tonight — in addition to President Trump — was Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate majority leader.

Other candidates have criticized former Vice President Joe Biden for his past work with McConnell on several legislative items and for certain comments by Biden about potentially working with McConnell again in the future. Biden has made the argument that his experience and relationships would be to Democrats’ benefit as president.

Biden, however, tonight framed his experience as being able to defeat McConnell. Refuting the notion that he has been “in the pocket of” McConnell, Biden said he’s the only candidate to have “beaten” the Senate leader on major issues. He also cited how Republicans have targeted Biden and his son in the Ukraine affair that got Trump impeached.

“Mitch McConnell has been the biggest pain in my neck in a long, long time,” Biden said.

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Ample Skirmishing, But No Foreign Policy Or National Security

The moderators have asked the candidates to deliver their closing statements after a frequently vicious debate. A galaxy of topics went unaddressed by the questioners and the candidates. What of the more than 90,000 American personnel deployed across the Middle East? What of the future of America’s alliances around the world and specifically NATO?

Vice President Joe Biden alluded briefly to one of the biggest foreign policy challenges for the U.S. in the 21st century — China’s globe-circling Belt and Road Initiative. But neither he nor any of the other candidates talked in detail about how they, as president, might respond or otherwise manage the intensely consequential relationship between Washington and Beijing in the 21st century. This isn’t the first debate to eschew those kinds of questions, and perhaps the fact that so many topics keep being missed underscores the breadth of the responsibilities of the presidency and the complexity of the issues facing the United States over the coming decades.

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Bloomberg Disagrees With Progressives On Wealth In The U.S.

Much of the beginning of the debate’s second hour fixated on the place that billionaires and the hyperwealthy have in the American economy.

When the candidates were asked to respond to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ tweet last year that said “billionaires should not exist,” former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the only billionaire on the stage, did not apologize for his net worth.

“All I know is I’ve been very lucky,” he said. “And I’m giving it all away.”

When asked directly whether he has made too much money, he said no.

“I’ve worked very hard for it,” he said, before arguing that Sanders’ policies would be a surefire way to get President Trump reelected. Bloomberg said that Sanders’ proposals are too extreme and equated them to communism, which he said would turn away most voters.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren took the moment to stump for her plan for a wealth tax on people with $50 million or more in assets. She then listed a number of things she says that such a tax would pay for, including universal child care and raising wages for child care workers.

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Socialism Vs. Capitalism At Core Of Democratic Primary

Income inequality in the United States drives Democrats who are running for president. But they don’t agree on how to fix it.

Bernie Sanders stands on one side with what he calls “democratic socialism.” It includes, for example, health care as a universal right and free tuition at public colleges. Sanders defended those policies, comparing them to those in Northern European countries, like Denmark.

But socialism, “democratic” or not, is not popular in the United States. The latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that just 28% had a favorable opinion of socialism, while 58% had an unfavorable one. In contrast, 57% had a favorable view of capitalism.

Billionaire and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg retorted, regarding the argument of socialism versus capitalism, that he can’t think of a way to get President Trump reelected more quickly.

“We’re not going to throw out capitalism,” Bloomberg said. Other countries tried that, he said: “It’s called communism, and it just didn’t work.”

Sanders took offense. “Let’s talk about democratic socialism, not communism, Mr. Bloomberg,” Sanders said. “That was a cheap shot.”

Bloomberg fired back, saying it’s proof of the great country that America is that the “best-known socialist in the country is a millionaire with three houses.”

If Sanders wins the nomination, he certainly will have to draw the line between “democratic” socialism and socialism, explain it and sell it. He thinks he can do it; many practiced in politics disagree. But we are in unique times.

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Fact check

1 Billionaire, 4 Millionaires And A Millennial

Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg keeps making references to himself as the only person onstage who isn’t a millionaire or billionaire. After an allusion to former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s many residences, Buttigieg described what he called the view from the front porch of his “one house, in Indiana.”

Here is the net worth of each candidate onstage, according to the most recent data from and Forbes:

  • Mike Bloomberg: $64.2 billion*
  • Elizabeth Warren: $11.1 million
  • Joe Biden: $7.9 million
  • Amy Klobuchar: $2.3 million
  • Bernie Sanders: $1.8 million
  • Pete Buttigieg: $167,000

*Bloomberg has not yet disclosed his finances to the Federal Election Commission but has an estimated net worth.

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When It Comes To Student Debt, Here’s Who Is Hurting The Most

Sen. Bernie Sanders mentioned the more than 45 million people who have student loans. They collectively owe about $1.6 trillion. That’s a ton of money, but it’s important to remember that not all debt is created equal and that some borrowers are struggling more than others.

Folks who got a graduate degree and those who completed their bachelor’s are far more likely to be able to pay those loans back. (College worked: They got better-paying jobs!)

The people who are really struggling are the folks who default on their student loans each year — about 7 million borrowers in total at the end of 2018, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Education.

People who fall into one of these categories are more likely to default on their loans:

  • started their degree and never finished
  • attended for-profit colleges
  • low-income students
  • black and Hispanic students
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Ban Fracking? It’s A Key Divide On Climate Issues

Progressive candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont want to ban fracking, or hydraulic fracturing — the extraction process that has driven the expansion in oil and gas production in the United States in recent years.

In addition to facilitating the production of the two fossil fuels, fracking can emit the potent greenhouse gas methane, affect groundwater near wells and increase pollution nearby.

But the other candidates onstage say there’s a limited or diminishing role for fracking, and the issue offered a key point of division for Democratic candidates on the crucial topic of climate change.

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has spent a lot of his money to remove coal from the nation’s energy landscape, wants to regulate fracking better. He’s aligned with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar in calling natural gas a “transitional fuel” as they seek movement toward 100% clean energy.

The moderators pressed Sanders and Warren on potential job losses associated with their call for a fracking ban. The New England senators responded by saying that boosting what they call the clean energy economy would create hundreds of thousands of jobs overall.

Read this story by NPR’s Jeff Brady for more on a proposed fracking ban, and for more on where the candidates stand on other climate issues, see our issue tracker.

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Fact check

Klobuchar’s ‘Post-It’ Health Care Plan

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren came out swinging early in Wednesday’s debate, taking aim at many of her competitors’ health care plans.

One of her charges was that Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s plan is so short that it’s “like a Post-it note.”

That might make it sound like Klobuchar doesn’t have much of an idea of what sort of plan she’d like. But Klobuchar has voiced support for a fully realized plan: a public-option bill introduced by Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz that Klobuchar co-sponsored. That plan would create a Medicaid-based public option. Medicaid, which generally serves lower-income people and is operated by state governments, typically pays doctors and hospitals lower reimbursement rates than Medicare, which is for senior citizens and run by the federal government.

Klobuchar, however, does say on her campaign’s website that she’s open to a public option that expands either Medicare or Medicaid.

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Fact check

Does Climate Change Disproportionately Hurt Low-Income Communities?

Former Vice President Joe Biden mentioned that rising temperatures and a changing climate hurt poor communities more. That’s in line with a recent NPR investigation: In dozens of major U.S. cities, low-income neighborhoods are more likely to be hotter than their wealthier counterparts.

NPR’s Meg Anderson and NPR’s Sean McMinn reported that living daily in a high heat environment is not just uncomfortable — it can have serious health implications. The reporters also found that the number of emergency calls in the city of Baltimore went up when the heat index went up.

You can read more here.

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We’re Halfway: Candidate Speaking Times

With one hour down and another to go, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders leads with the most speaking time at 8 minutes and 51 seconds.

Sanders is closely followed by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar at 8 minutes and 29 seconds and then Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 8 minutes and 23 seconds.

In his first debate performance, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has spoken for a total of 7 minutes and 16 seconds.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg have spoken the least — with Biden at 6 minutes and 22 seconds and Buttigieg at 5 minutes and 56 seconds.

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Midwest Nice? Klobuchar, Buttigieg Spar Again

Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar have a few things in common: They’re Midwesterners positioning themselves as centrist bridge-builders — and they’re each trying to grab attention as Mike Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders are on the ascent.

Buttigieg picked up on a question directed at Klobuchar, who was recently unable to remember the name of Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Buttigieg suggested that as a U.S. senator, she should have known his name. “You are staking your candidacy on your Washington experience … and were not able to speak to literally the first thing about the politics of the country to our south,” he said.

Appearing frustrated, Klobuchar asked, “Are you trying to say that I’m dumb? Or are you mocking me here, Pete?”

Klobuchar said she “made an error” and pointed to her legislative record in the Senate, contrasting it with Buttigieg’s lack of experience holding a national office. Sen. Elizabeth Warren came back and defended Klobuchar a few minutes later, saying everyone forgets names sometimes.

It’s not the first time Klobuchar and Buttigieg have sparred; Klobuchar has tried to paint Buttigieg as inexperienced, and Buttigieg has previously criticized Klobuchar’s failure to recall the name of Mexico’s president.

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‘Stop And Frisk’ Becomes A Debate Flashpoint

Predictably, the former New York City police policy known as “stop and frisk” became a flashpoint tonight for former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Bloomberg continued the policy from his predecessor Rudy Giuliani’s administration in which people on the street were searched because the city government believed that this practice would help stop murders and violent crime.

The way the policy was carried out was found to be unconstitutional, however, because of the disproportionate number of black and brown people who were stopped. Bloomberg has apologized and says he ended “stop and frisk” when he saw it wasn’t working. Tonight, former Vice President Joe Biden challenged that, noting that the Obama administration sent in monitors — which Bloomberg resisted.

Bloomberg has gotten into trouble during this presidential campaign for comments he made in 2015:

"People say, ‘Oh my God, you are arresting kids for marijuana who are all minorities.’ Yes, that’s true. Why? Because we put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true. Why’d we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is. And the way you should get the guns out of the kids’ hands is throw them against the wall and frisk them,” Bloomberg said then.

He has since apologized, saying, in part: “I have taken responsibility for taking too long to understand the impact it had on black and Latino communities. This issue and my comments about it do not reflect my commitment to criminal justice reform and racial equity."

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Warren Goes After Bloomberg For Allegations Of Sexual Harassment

One of the debate’s critical moments happened when former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg was asked about women’s allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination over his years in business.

Bloomberg defended himself by saying that if there’s ever a complaint across his enterprises, it’s investigated immediately and that women are in key roles across the workplaces.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren jumped in. She said it doesn’t cut it to simply respond to the allegations by saying, “I’ve been nice to some women.”

She also cited the nondisclosure agreements that some former Bloomberg employees have signed. She paused and asked Bloomberg whether he would release various women from their NDAs, to allow them to offer their side of the story. He did not agree. At one point he seemed to dismiss some complaints by saying people “maybe didn’t like a joke I told.”

Warren said Democrats are not going to defeat Trump — who has faced many allegations of sexual misconduct himself — with someone who has so many NDAs and what she referred to as a drip-drip-drip of allegations.

Former Vice President Joe Biden piled on, saying “it’s easy” to release the former employees from the NDAs, and he made a larger point about Democratic nominees needing to be transparent.

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Klobuchar Tries For Do-Over On Mexico’s President Flop

Sen. Amy Klobuchar was asked about her inability to name Mexico’s president during a recent interview.

Her response aimed to make up for the botch: She named-dropped Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and touted her experience on foreign relations.

“People sometimes forget names,” Klobuchar said on the debate stage.

Coming to Klobuchar’s defense, Sen. Elizabeth Warren argued that the candidates’ positions on trade policy were more important than whether a candidate could name a foreign leader in the heat of a live interview. “It happens to everybody,” said Warren.

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Fact check

Did Bloomberg Oppose Obamacare?

Former Vice President Joe Biden said that former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg called the Affordable Care Act “a disgrace” after it was passed in 2010.

Bloomberg did, in fact, call the ACA “a disgrace” in a lecture at Dartmouth College in July 2010, according to The Washington Post.

This comes after Bloomberg recently launched a $16 million ad campaign highlighting his relationship to Barack Obama.

According to NPR’s 2020 health care policy tracker, the Bloomberg campaign has come out in favor of a “Medicare-like public option.”

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Post-It Notes And PowerPoint: Warren Goes After Rivals On Health Care

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — who has made “having a plan” part of her brand – came out swinging against several of her rivals’ health care plans, painting them as flimsy and flawed.

Of the plan proposed by former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Warren said: It’s “a slogan that was thought up by his consultants. … It’s not a plan; it’s a PowerPoint.”

Of Klobuchar’s plan: “It’s even less. It’s like a Post-it note: ‘Insert Plan Here,’” Warren said. (3M, the inventor of the Post-it note, is based in Klobuchar’s home state of Minnesota).

Of Sanders’ plan, with which Warren’s proposal has shared the “progressive” label, Warren said: It’s “a good start, but instead of expanding and bringing in more people to help, instead his campaign relentlessly attacks everyone who asks a question or tries to fill in details about how to actually make this work” — an apparent reference to some Sanders supporters’ reputation for bullying their rivals.

Sanders and Warren have supported single-payer “Medicare for All” plans, while Buttigieg and Klobuchar, along with former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, have called for a public insurance option.

Warren’s rivals defended their plans and responded in kind. Buttigieg said he’s “more of a Microsoft Word guy.” Klobuchar said she took “personal offense since Post-it notes were invented in my state,” and she made reference to the debate location in Las Vegas, accusing both Warren and Sanders of essentially gambling with the health care system by supporting Medicare for All plans.

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Sanders And Bloomberg Find Common Ground: Both Have Stents

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders responded to a question about how transparent he has been about his heart attack last year but didn’t commit to releasing more comprehensive medical records.

He had initially promised such a release but has since backed down from that commitment.

On Wednesday, Sanders deflected the question by noting that both he and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg have had stents inserted into their hearts, saying it’s maybe “the one thing” the men share.

Sanders added, “Hey, follow me around the campaign trail, three, four, five events a day, and see how you do compared to me.”

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Klobuchar Defends Record As A Prosecutor

Michael Bloomberg wasn’t the only candidate forced to defend past stances on criminal justice issues. Before becoming a senator in 2007, Amy Klobuchar was the top prosecutor for Hennepin County, which encompasses Minneapolis and some of its suburbs.

On Wednesday, she was challenged about that record by moderators.

As Minnesota Public Radio reported, Klobuchar ran as a tough-on-crime prosecutor and has come under scrutiny for her office’s prosecution of a young black teenager who was sentenced to life in prison for killing an 11-year-old girl in 2002.

Klobuchar said she supports a review of the case although the district attorney’s office has not committed to one.

— Brett Neely
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Who’s Best To Beat Donald Trump?

This is probably an impossible question to answer, frankly, but it’s the one all Democratic voters want an answer to. Former Vice President Joe Biden claimed onstage tonight that he’s best to beat Trump, based on an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out yesterday that showed him doing best against Trump in a head-to-head matchup.

By that measure, yes, Biden does best. In the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, also released yesterday, it was also Biden who does best against Trump. He beats Trump by 6 points; former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg defeats Trump by 4; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders wins by 3; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg both beat him by 2; Sen. Elizabeth Warren defeats him by 1.

Now, these are all essentially within the margin of error. And head-to-heads this far out are not great measures for the most part anyway. Other incumbent presidents have been behind in head-to-heads and then won.

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Fact check

Are Sanders And Bloomberg Registered Democrats?

Both Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg took criticism for their Democratic Party affiliation veering off opposite ends of the party.

While Sanders is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, he is registered as an independent and publicly identifies as a democratic socialist.

Bloomberg is currently registered as a Democrat but has switched party affiliations over the years.

When first running for mayor of New York City, in 2001, Bloomberg switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. In 2007, Bloomberg registered as an independent. He officially rejoined the Democratic Party in 2018.

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Sanders’ Online Supporters Are In The Spotlight

Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., who has essentially matched Bernie Sanders in the first two nominating contests, went after the Vermont senator for some of his supporters’ attacks on a powerful union in Nevada.

The Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which covers casino workers on the Las Vegas strip, has opposed Sanders’ signature issue, “Medicare for All.” The union says the plan would take away its hard-won health insurance plans. But the union said it got a lot of online abuse from Sanders supporters for taking that stance.

Buttigieg criticized Sanders for allowing such abuse to go on and said it’s part of a larger pattern. “Why [are the attacks] especially the case among your supporters?” Buttigieg asked.

Sanders said that the vast majority of his supporters don’t engage in any sort of online attacks and that if some sliver of his backers do, then he “disowns” them and they are “not part of this movement.” He said many of his staffers have also faced “vicious” attacks.

And while the culinary union ultimately did not endorse any candidate, Sanders touted his broad support among organized labor groups.

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‘Nearly 75,000’ Voted Early In Nevada

Just before tonight’s debate began, Nevada Democrats announced the final numbers for the state’s first-ever early caucuses.

“Nearly 75,000” people voted early, the party says. The majority of those people were first-time caucusgoers, according to the party.

That puts the state on pace to easily surpass turnout for the 2016 Democratic primary, when about 84,000 people caucused.

Almost 120,000 people caucused in the state in 2008, the first contest with Nevada holding its “first in the West” moniker.

The party is using new technology to integrate the early vote totals into the day-of caucus results.

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Warren Goes After Bloomberg On Sexism

So far, each of the candidates has been eager to go after former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg as his star rises.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren took on Bloomberg’s billionaire status and compared his alleged treatment of women to that of President Trump. The country doesn’t need, she said, “a billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians.’ And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump” — eliciting guffaws and murmurs from the audience.

Warren is referring to allegations that Bloomberg has a history of offensive remarks about women, including some who worked for him. A recent Washington Post story details a long history of lawsuits accusing Bloomberg of sexual harassment and discrimination. None went to trial. Bloomberg has denied that his company discriminated against women and has claimed he has been a “champion” for women.

Warren said she’d support the eventual Democratic nominee — whomever that person is — “but understand this: Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.”

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Candidates Come Out Hot — Mostly Going After ‘Arrogant Billionaire’ Bloomberg

Tonight’s debate got off to a heated start.

First question up: defeating President Trump, which Democratic voters have consistently said is their top priority.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders started off, repeating a common refrain that the best way to beat Trump is to mobilize voters on progressive issues he champions.

Next up: former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who was clear that he doesn’t think Sanders — an avowed democratic socialist — has “any chance whatsoever” to beat Trump, should the Vermont senator become the nominee. Bloomberg cited Sanders’ “Medicare for All” proposal, which would effectively eliminate private health insurance.

Elizabeth Warren then jumped in and attacked the billionaire Bloomberg. The Massachusetts senator blasted him for alleged comments about women and his since-disavowed support of the “stop and frisk” policing tactic, which disproportionately targeted young men of color, while he was leading NYC.

Warren then tied Bloomberg to Trump, saying he’s just another “arrogant billionaire.”

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New Ad Campaign Launched Targeting Sanders

Moderate Democrats are striking back as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders continues to rise in national polls. The Big Tent Project, a recently formed 501(c)(4) organization, launched an advertising blitz on Wednesday that is specifically targeting Sanders. The group plans to invest $1 million for ads in Nevada and South Carolina hitting Sanders on his record.

The first digital ads were unveiled this week with a budget of $200,000. The first opens by saying: “Socialist Bernie Sanders promises the world. But at what cost?” It accuses Sanders of pushing a nuclear waste dump in Sierra Blanca, Texas, which the ad says threatened Latino communities. The reference to nuclear waste is intended to strike a chord in Nevada, where former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spent decades fighting a proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain.

Big Tent Executive Director Jonathan Kott, a former top adviser to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., says the ad buys could expand as the group continues to raise funds. Kott declined to name the donors sponsoring the push, but he said any future ads will continue to target Sanders.

“No presumed front-runner in the modern era has ever skated by so easily with virtually no scrutiny of his record or ideas,” Kott said in a message. “Sanders himself said he would welcome a debate about his socialism and electability so this project intends to launch one.”

The Sanders campaign did not respond to NPR’s request for comment.

— Kelsey Snell
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The Candidates’ Shifting Fortunes

A lot is on the line for these Democratic candidates. It’s the first debate featuring Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and billionaire who has spent more than $300 million of his own money on ads in March 3, Super Tuesday, states. Bloomberg is expected to be the target of a lot of attacks from fellow candidates tonight because of some of his controversial policies and statements from his time as mayor, including his police force’s use of “stop and frisk.”

Bloomberg got on the debate stage because he has now vaulted into second and third place in most national polls. He’s second in the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, jumping from 4% in December to 19% now. Can he hold up?

But Bloomberg isn’t competing in Nevada, and this contest is very important for the other candidates. This is the first state that offers a degree of diversity in this contest. In 2016, Nevada was 41% nonwhite, including 19% Latino, 13% black and 4% Asian. And candidates such as former Vice President Joe Biden, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar need to do well in Nevada.

They are hoping to be the alternative to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who holds a double-digit lead in the NPR poll at 31%. He’s the man to beat. Buttigieg is the delegate leader in this early race, ahead of Sanders by one delegate, but he hasn’t appeared to gain much momentum from his good finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The NPR poll showed Buttigieg actually losing ground nationally since December, dropping from 13% to 8%. Klobuchar gained 5 points since December, but she’s also only in single digits at 9%. And both are in low single digits with nonwhite voters.

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Here’s How Many People Have Been Watching Recent Democratic Debates

An estimated 7.86 million viewers watched the last Democratic debate earlier this month in New Hampshire.

The viewership numbers were from ratings firm Nielsen and were released by ABC News, which co-sponsored the debate.

With billionaire Mike Bloomberg onstage tonight for the first time and several candidates looking to boost their momentum or expand their reach after the first two voting states, tonight’s tussle in Las Vegas could draw in more viewers.

January’s debate, before the Iowa caucuses, drew an estimated 7.36 million viewers, according to Deadline. December’s debate had just 6.17 million estimated viewers.

These recent figures are down from earlier in the debate cycle (we’re now up to debate No. 9). The first debate, a two-night contest in June, drew more than 15 million viewers each night, Deadline reports.

Remember, though, that of course other factors can affect viewership, like the day of the week of the debate or, simply, what else is going on that evening.

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Steyer Leads In Ad Spending But Fails To Make Debate Stage

Billionaire businessman Tom Steyer is massively outspending the rest of the Democratic field in Nevada — but he fell short of qualifying for tonight’s debate.

According to new data from Advertising Analytics through Feb. 18, Steyer has spent over $15 million in Nevada, with 80% going to broadcast television ads. Nationwide, Steyer has spent over $100 million.

The rest of the remaining Democratic field has spent significantly less on ads in Nevada.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has spent over $2 million, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden at $1.7 million. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has spent $1.4 million; former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg has spent $1.3 million; and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has spent $800,000.

The smallest spender in Nevada is former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is appearing onstage tonight but not campaigning in the state at all.

Bloomberg has spent $144,000 in Nevada even though he is dominating national spending — dropping over $300 million on ads nationwide.

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Here’s How A President Could Go About Canceling Student Debt

It turns out there’s a provision in the Higher Education Act of 1965 that gives the secretary of education power to cancel student loan debt. It originates from the time the U.S. government was freaking out about the Soviet Union’s launch of the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik.

The goal of the measure was to allow — if needed — U.S. students to play academic catch-up with the Soviets, with the idea that the United States had an interest in creating the incentives needed to train as many scientists as practical.

Since it’s tucked into a federal law, canceling student debt in this way would not need the green light from the current Congress.

NPR’s Cory Turner dug into this and the potential roadblocks and legal challenges here.

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Steyer Is Not Happy About Not Making Tonight’s Debate

There’s a lot of focus on one billionaire — Mike Bloomberg — joining the debate stage for the first time. But for another billionaire — Tom Steyer — tonight marks the first time in months he won’t appear with fellow Democratic candidates.

Steyer, who’s currently fifth in the polling average in Nevada (and third in the next state, South Carolina), has decried the lack of recent state polls in those two states.

One way to have qualified for tonight’s debate: national surveys with 10% or more support or similar levels of backing in Nevada or South Carolina polls.

Steyer was unhappy.

“The [Democratic National Committee] made a tremendous mistake in managing the debate qualification process,” Steyer tweeted, citing the number of polls in the diverse states of Nevada and South Carolina and the DNC’s decision to drop its donor threshold, which effectively opened a path for the self-funding Bloomberg to get on the debate stage.

Bloomberg is on the Nevada debate stage but not on the state’s ballot.

Steyer, who has spent a lot of time and money in Nevada and South Carolina, has made an explicit pitch to minority voters, who make up sizable shares of the electorates in the two states.

As part of this appeal, he has released a new TV ad attacking Bloomberg for “racist” policies, including the former New York City mayor’s since-disavowed support of the “stop-and-frisk” policing tactic, which disproportionately targeted young men of color.

Steyer’s campaign will air the ad in Super Tuesday states starting Monday. Bloomberg is targeting the more than a dozen states that vote on Super Tuesday, March 3.

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Technology Details Unveiled Days Before Caucuses

For weeks, it has been clear what Democrats in Nevada aren’t going to use as part of their caucus process this Saturday: an app made by the same company that designed the software that failed spectacularly in Iowa.

But details on what they are planning to use instead had been scarce — until Tuesday night. The state party hosted a briefing and unveiled how precinct leaders will be encouraged to use party-provided iPads to calculate and submit results.

Basically, precinct chairs will follow a step-by-step guide through the caucus process, and the iPads will use a series of corresponding Google forms along the way. Organizers say the tablets will take in information from caucus leaders about the in-person process and integrate early caucus data, as well as help with the many calculations involved in the process.

All caucus leaders also will get paper records of the applicable early-voting data for their precincts, so they will have the ability to do all the necessary calculations on paper. They can choose to work that way if the iPads fail or should they just prefer not to use the devices.

Although questions about training and usability still remain, cybersecurity experts seem generally optimistic about the developments and the party’s transparency over the past few weeks.

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How Much (If At All) Have The Candidates Visited Nevada?

Businessman Tom Steyer has held the highest number of events in Nevada — 50 as of today, according to the Nevada Independent — but he won’t be on the debate stage this evening after failing to meet the Democratic National Committee’s qualifications.

Meanwhile, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg will participate in the debate despite having held no campaign events in Nevada.

In total, the eight remaining candidates have held 213 events in the state — which is just a quarter of the events the same group held in Iowa and less than half of those they held in New Hampshire.

Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg has held 40 events in Nevada, followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at 34 and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 31.

So far, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has spent noticeably less time in Nevada (totaling 29 events) than she did in earlier states. She held a large number of events in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

Klobuchar has still held more events in Nevada than former Vice President Joe Biden, who hopes to perform well Saturday and take the momentum to South Carolina following two disappointing finishes in New Hampshire and Iowa.

But the real outlier tonight is Bloomberg, who makes his first campaign visit to Nevada for the debate — but won’t be an option for Nevadans caucusing on Saturday.

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Welcome To Showtime In Las Vegas

The Democratic presidential primary field is shrinking, but a new face is onstage in Las Vegas tonight. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg will have his first shot to debate — and it could be a make or break for him.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The debate starts at 9 p.m. ET and is expected to last two hours.
  • It’s taking place at the Paris Theater in Las Vegas.
  • The debate sets up Saturday’s Nevada caucuses.
  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is currently leading in the polls (despite the fact that most Americans have an unfavorable impression of socialism).
  • Bloomberg has already drawn the fire of other candidates, so expect him to be a prime target onstage.

Follow along here for live analysis of the debate, and subscribe to the NPR Politics Podcast for a recap.

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