Democratic debate: key takeaways from the bust-up in Las Vegas

In the most combative debate of the primary cycle, Bloomberg came under sustained attack and Elizabeth Warren was revived

There were lots of disagreements on Wednesday’s debate stage in Las Vegas, but one thing that everyone agreed on was that the event marked the most intense and combative debate of the primary cycle. Bloomberg went after Sanders, Buttigieg went after Klobuchar, and Warren pretty much went after everyone.

The combative debate served as the final moment for the candidates to make their case ahead of the Nevada caucuses on Saturday; the first primary contest in the west, and a high-stakes test with a far more diverse electorate than Iowa or New Hampshire. The night was also defined by Mike Bloomberg’s closely watched debut on the debate stage.

Here’s what you need to know:

Bloomberg under attack from the outset

“Mayor Bloomberg, there’s a lot for you to respond to,” NBC’s Lester Holt said after the former New York mayor had faced a barrage of attacks from the other Democrats on stage.

Criticism of the billionaire candidate has built in recent days, as Bloomberg’s standing rose in the polls even though he didn’t compete in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, and many had predicted Bloomberg would face the brunt of fellow Democrats’ ire during his debate debut. On Wednesday, the candidates did not hold back.

Biden argued that with his stop-and-frisk policy, Bloomberg had thrown “up to 5 million black men up against the wall”. Buttigieg accused him of not actually being a Democrat. Sanders, relishing another chance to rage against the 1%, characterized Bloomberg’s wealth as “grotesque and immoral”.

Even Donald Trump took a shot. “I hear he’s getting pounded tonight,” the president told a crowd of supporters during a rally in Arizona, as the debate carried on.

Bloomberg looked tired, at times annoyed, and often sunk back instead of cutting in. He found himself apologizing often. Addressing his stop-and-frisk policy, he said: “I’ve sat, I’ve apologized, I’ve asked for forgiveness. We stopped too many people.”

“You need a different apology,” Warren shot back.

Warren had a blistering performance

Following disappointing results in Iowa and New Hampshire, the Massachusetts senator needed to rally support ahead of this weekend’s caucuses in Nevada. And she delivered.

Her voice hoarse with a cold, Warren spoke the longest of any candidate on stage, jumping on every chance to call out her opponents’ policies and contrast them with her own. Ripping through the other candidates’ healthcare plans, Warren said what Buttigieg had was a “PowerPoint”.

Elizabeth Warren with Bernie Sanders.
Elizabeth Warren with Bernie Sanders. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

“Amy’s plan is even less; it’s a Post-it note,” she continued. And while Sanders’ proposal is “good start”, she added, “his campaign relentlessly attacks everyone who asks a question” about it.

She also landed one of the punchiest attacks on Bloomberg, bringing the attention to his history of derogatory remarks about women: “So I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians’,” she said, “And, no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”

Her fiery barbs and energetic performance seems to have paid off. Warren’s campaign said she raised record amounts of money during the debate.

Klobuchar and Buttigieg take aim at one another

There didn’t seem to be much love lost between the two midwestern contenders. Klobuchar, who in past debates has homed in on the South Bend mayor and has repeatedly argued he lacks experience to take up the presidency, escalated her critiques on Wednesday night.

When Buttigieg questioned her record on immigration, Klobuchar hit back. “You’ve memorized a bunch of talking points,” she said, addressing Buttigieg. “You’re not in the arena.”

When Buttigieg referenced an interview in which Klobuchar forgot the name of Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Klobuchar didn’t take kindly. “Are you calling me dumb? Are you mocking me?” she asked Buttigieg.

Sanders is still the frontrunner

Sanders is the frontrunner in Nevada and has a double-digit lead over his opponents in the most recent national polls. And yet he didn’t appear the man to beat on stage. Even Warren spared him the third degree.

Sanders faced challenges over some of his supporters’ online attacks, in particular reports that Sanders supporters harassed leaders of Nevada’s powerful culinary union after it criticized his healthcare plan. “If there are a few people who make ugly remarks, who attack trade union leaders, I disown those people – they are not part of my campaign,” Sanders said.

But he benefited from the other candidates’ arguments and stuck to his talking points, presenting himself as the candidate who could bring revolutionary change. And he easily brushed off Bloomberg’s accusation that he was championing communism as a “cheap shot”.


Maanvi Singh in Las Vegas

The GuardianTramp

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