Bloomberg qualifies for Las Vegas debate as Sanders rises in polls

He will likely be a target of other contenders in Nevada, after several unflattering audio clips of past comments he's made resurfaced this week

Michael Bloomberg’s free-spending campaign has secured him a spot on the Las Vegas debate stage on Wednesday, the first time the billionaire will appear onstage alongside his Democratic presidential rivals.

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The three-time New York City mayor qualified early Tuesday for the ninth debate, after a national poll from NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist showed him with 19 percent support among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, placing him behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had a double-digit lead at 31 percent.

The survey was the fourth national qualifying poll that showed Bloomberg with at least 10 percent support, enough to earn him a place at Wednesday’s Nevada debate — even though he won’t appear on the state’s primary ballot.

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Bloomberg previously cracked 10 percent in polls from Quinnipiac University, Monmouth University and Fox News.

Bloomberg entered the race in November and has already poured close to $400 million of his own fortune in advertising and millions more on staffing. Because he was not accepting individual donations, he was precluded from participating in earlier debates. But last month, the Democratic National Committee changed its qualifying rules to drop the requirement that a candidate must ascertain a certain number of unique donors, prompting complaints from his 2020 rivals.

He will likely be a target of other contenders in Nevada, after several unflattering audio clips of past comments he’s made resurfaced this week. In one, he defended “stop and frisk,” the controversial policing strategy he embraced as mayor that disproportionately targets men of color, and in a separate one, he blamed the end of redlining, a discriminatory housing policy that cut off largely minority neighborhoods from mortgage lending opportunities, for triggering the financial crisis.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren suggested the comments about redlining, made at a forum hosted by Georgetown University in September 2008 at the height of the economic meltdown, should prevent him from becoming the Democratic nominee.

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“What the mayor is really saying is that this crisis could have been averted if the banks had just been able to discriminate against black and brown people more,” Warren said during an interview on MSNBC.

Bloomberg has also clashed with Sanders this week, after the self-avowed democratic socialist accused him of trying to buy the presidential election. On Monday, Bloomberg aimed his massive campaign juggernaut at Sanders with the rollout of a new ad highlighting critical messages and memes that Sanders' supporters have shared online, as well as insults that they've lobbed at other presidential candidates.

His unprecedented strategy to skip the four early-voting states and instead concentrate on the slew of delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday means that his campaign is so far untested.

Other candidates who have qualified for the debate include Sanders, Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

The debate, which will air on Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET, will be hosted by NBC News, MSNBC and The Nevada Independent.

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