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Democratic debate preview: Welcome to the stage Michael Bloomberg

Posted at 9:19 PM, Feb 18, 2020

Wednesday’s Democratic Party presidential debate hosted by NBC News could make for one of the most intriguing debates in recent memory. The late entry of Michael Bloomberg has posed an intriguing case study on whether it’s possible not to participate in the early-state nominating contests and still earn the nomination.

So far, Bloomberg has spent hundreds of millions in advertising. While commercials help spread a candidate’s message, advertisements do not face the type of scrutiny a stage full of opponents questioned by moderators does. And with Bloomberg’s recent rise in the polls, he could be facing incoming from everyone on the stage.

When: Wednesday, Feb. 19, 9-11 p.m. ET
How to watch: NBC, MSNBC,, Universo (Spanish Translation)

The candidates

Former Vice President Joe Biden
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Five of the six candidates have participated in every previous debate.


Candidate earned at least 10% support in four national polls, or 12 percent in two Nevada and/or South Carolina polls, or have at least one national delegate pledged from the Iowa or New Hampshire primaries.

Wednesday’s debate marks the first debate that has lifted the requirement to meet fundraising thresholds. This is what allowed Bloomberg to enter the debate.

Ridding the fundraising requirement for Bloomberg, who has largely self-funded his campaign, did not please Warren.

“It’s a shame Mike Bloomberg can buy his way into the debate,” Warren said. “But at least now primary voters curious about how each candidate will take on Donald Trump can get a live demonstration of how we each take on an egomaniac billionaire.”

Who isn’t on the stage

Billionaire Tom Steyer will not participate in a debate for the first time during the 2020 cycle. This comes despite strong polling numbers in Nevada and South Carolina. Also, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who last participated in a debate in October, did not qualify.

Businessman Andrew Yang has dropped out of the race since the last debate. Other candidates who have since dropped out include Sen. Michael Bennet and Gov. Deval Patrick.

Where the race stands

Buttigieg holds a slight lead in delegates over Sanders (23-21). Other candidates with delegates are Warren (8), Klobuchar (7) and Biden (6). Bloomberg did not enter the first two nominating contests, and will sit out Saturday’s Nevada Caucuses and the South Carolina Primary on Feb. 29.

Although Buttigieg holds the lead in delegates, it is hard to describe him as the frontrunner. Sanders has a plurality of votes, and leads national polling.

Real Clear Politics tracks major opinion polls, and an aggregate of polls show that Sanders has seen his share of the vote go from 19% to 27% in the last three weeks. During that time, Bloomberg has seen his numbers more than double, as he has gone from the back of the pack to nearly even with one-time frontrunner Biden for second.

Sanders also is polling well in Nevada, a state he won in 2016.

An East Carolina University poll held this week shows Biden still holds a lead in South Carolina, despite poor performances in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But on March 3, the biggest night of the nominating race awaits as more than a dozen states, including Texas and California, hold primaries. These states are already conducting early voting, meaning Wednesday’s debate could be the final opportunity for candidates to make an impression before a crucial Super Tuesday race.

Debate rules

The moderators will be "NBC Nightly News" and "Dateline NBC" anchor Lester Holt, "Meet the Press" moderator and NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd, NBC News Chief White House Correspondent and host of "MSNBC Live" Hallie Jackson, Noticias Telemundo Senior Correspondent Vanessa Hauc and Jon Ralston of The Nevada Independent.

Candidates will have 1 minute and 15 seconds for answers and 45 seconds for follow-ups at the moderators’ discretion, NBC News said.

Race issues facing Bloomberg, candidates

Given that Wednesday is the ninth debate since the start of the nominating process, it is very possible that many of the question will be directed at Bloomberg. How he responds to issues such as “Stop and Frisk” and race relations more broadly could be seen as key. Bloomberg will likely be asked about why he allowed “Stop and Frisk,” a policy that allowed NYPD officers to stop citizens to conduct pat downs without probably cause, to exist for years.

Opponents of stop and frisk claim that blacks were targeted by the policy, and that these stops did not reduce crime. Proponents said that stops of these nature are permissible by Supreme Court ruling, and dispute findings that the stops don’t reduce crime.

Buttigieg and Klobuchar could also be probed on race relations, especially since both candidates did well following the New Hampshire primary. Buttigieg has faced criticism over housing and policing policies while mayor.

Meanwhile, Klobuchar has been facing questions on her prosecution of Myon Burrell, who was convicted of killing an 11-year-old girl with a stray bullet. The AP reported that no guns, fingerprints or DNA tying Burrell to the homicide were ever found.

Black Democratic voters make up nearly 20% of the party’s electorate.