LAS VEGAS: Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg will confront rival presidential hopefuls for the first time on the Democratic debate stage on Wednesday and endure barbs from competitors irked by his rising prominence in the race to take on President Donald Trump.
Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, will take the stage as the clear frontrunner, buoyed by big wins in Iowa and New Hampshire and surging in the polls with the next nominating contest just four days away in Nevada.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll out on Wednesday showed Sanders with a commanding double digit lead nationally, at 32 per cent. Sagging former frontrunner Joe Biden was second at 16 per cent, followed by Bloomberg at 14 and Elizabeth Warren at 12.
While Sanders and other White House hopefuls have spent months barnstorming early states, billionaire Bloomberg parachuted late into the Democratic nomination contest.
The US media tycoon’s rise in polling, fuelled by his astronomical spending on campaign advertising, has helped him qualify for his first 2020 debate. His performance will be a closely watched public test.
It also has boosted the chances of the November election being a very unique show of one septuagenarian white male New York billionaire going up against another — President Donald Trump.
The prospect is not sitting well with Bloomberg’s five debate rivals, who are likely to hurl searing salvos at him when they take the stage in Las Vegas for a two-hour showdown starting 6 pm local time.
“I got news for Mr Bloomberg,” Senator Sanders, the leftwing firebrand who won last week’s New Hampshire primary, told voters on Sunday in Nevada. “The American people are sick and tired of billionaires buying elections.”
Bloomberg has essentially foregone the campaigning in the first four state-wide contests, including Nevada, which votes on Saturday.
Instead he is going all in on so-called Super Tuesday on March 3, when 14 states including heavily populated California and Texas vote on choosing a Democratic nominee.
The ninth Democratic debate’s other participants — former vice-president Biden, former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar, all moderates, and the more progressive senators Sanders and Warren — have castigated Bloomberg for his campaign approach.
– ‘Egomaniac billionaire’ –
Warren, whose campaign seems to be losing steam, has largely refrained from attacking other hopefuls on the debate stage. She now needs a boost and badly.
On Tuesday, she gave a preview of the fireworks she might have in mind, tweeting “it’s a shame” that Bloomberg can “buy” his way into the debate while she and others have expended so much campaign trail shoe leather.
Bloomberg is said to be worth $55.5 billion.
Buttigieg also took aim at the former mayor on Tuesday when asked during a CNN town hall if he thought Bloomberg was trying to buy his way in.
“What else do you call it when you dip into your endless reserves of millions and billions and don’t go through the process of campaigning in states like Nevada, or Iowa, or New Hampshire?” Buttigieg asked.
“Humbling yourself, going into the diners and the backyards, looking eye to eye to voters?”