Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took to the presidential debate stage for the second time Tuesday night, faring better in South Carolina than his bumpy performance in Nevada. But he still faced questions and criticisms of the police tactic of stop-and-frisk and his alleged harassment of women.
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This time around seven candidates qualified for the debate at the Gaillard Center in Charleston, co-hosted with the Congressional Black Caucus Institute:
- Joe Biden
- Mike Bloomberg
- Pete Buttigieg
- Amy Klobuchar
- Bernie Sanders
- Tom Steyer
- Elizabeth Warren
Last Wednesday, in the Las Vegas debate hosted by NBC News and MSNBC, the attacks on Bloomberg began almost immediately.
"Mr. Bloomberg had policies in New York City of stop-and-frisk — which went after African-American and Latino people in an outrageous way," Sanders said. "That is not a way you're going to grow voter turnout."
"I'd like to talk about who we're running against: a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians — and no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump, I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg," Warren said.
Every candidate on the debate stage attacked Bloomberg within the first 10 minutes, bringing up several controversial parts of his record, such as stop-and-frisk.
This time around, candidates attacked Sanders more than the mayor, with the senator's foes criticizing his electability and controversial record on gun control.
Bloomberg was a focus in the early portion of the Charleston debate. Warren again hammered him for allegations Bloomberg mistreated women, including a claim from a former Bloomberg L.P. employee that he said "kill it" when he found out that she was pregnant. Bloomberg denied he ever said that, and instead argued releasing three women from non-disclosure agreements — after Warren pressed him on it during the Las Vegas debate — was proof he was committed to women's rights.
"Probably wrong to make the jokes. I don't remember what they were, so I assume — if it bothered them, I was wrong and I apologize. I'm sorry for that," the mayor said.
Sanders, meanwhile, attacked Bloomberg early on for his wealth, saying the economy was working for billionaires like him but not the working class. Bloomberg fired back by citing conspiracies concerns that Russia was trying to help his campaign.
"Vladimir Putin thinks that Donald Trump should be president of the United States and that's why Russia is helping you get elected," Bloomberg said to Sanders.
Bloomberg fielded more policy questions than in the last debate, including on his bans of trans fats and large soda sizes as mayor and his support for charter schools. The mayor defended his health and education record overall, arguing some city policies he implemented could work in other parts of the country.
As they have since he entered the campaign, Bloomberg's opponents also critiqued his record on policing, charging stop-and-frisk in the city while he was mayor was tantamount to racial profiling.
Bloomberg isn't on the ballot for the primary this Saturday in South Carolina, which has a majority-black Democratic electorate. But he did earn an endorsement from New York City's first black mayor, David Dinkins.
Bloomberg won't appear on a presidential ballot until Super Tuesday on March 3.
BLOOMBERG VS. SANDERS
Before Sanders and Bloomberg even snapped at each other in Charleston, fighting between the camps had increased in recent weeks. On Monday, the Bloomberg team released a video on Twitter slamming the Vermont senator on his record on guns.
In response, the Sanders campaign issued this statement: "The NRA never endorsed Bernie Sanders and he has never taken a dime of their money. In fact, he lost his 1988 Congressional race because he backed an assault weapons ban. But even after that, Sanders maintained his opposition to these weapons of war."
NY1 was told by Bloomberg campaign sources before the debate that the mayor planned to go after Sanders, who is considered the frontrunner in the primary, easily won the Nevada caucuses, and has been a target of Bloomberg recently.
Five Bloomberg campaign surrogates — including Queens Rep. Greg Meeks and mayors from Baltimore and Flint, Michigan — actually held a press conference earlier Tuesday, off-site in Charleston, to defend the mayor and slam the senator's record on gun control, citing his votes against background checks.
"Does Bernie Sanders need to apologize to the grieving families who have sued gun makers but face hurdles in court due to Bernie Sanders's vote?" Meeks said. "Too often Bernie Sanders has been on the wrong side of history."
They claimed the Vermont senator did not do enough for African American voters in his home state.
"While he likes to promote his plan on criminal justice reform, he has done little to address disparities in his own home state," former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said.
Bloomberg has been criticized for months for his own record on criminal justice, especially on stop-and-frisk.
The difference, these supporters said, was Bloomberg apologized; Sanders has not.
"When you look at the candidates, each and every one of them has done something that has been harmful to the African American community," Meeks said. "Mike Bloomberg has said he apologized for it."
The Bloomberg team was trying to shape the narrative ahead of the debate, with the campaign also releasing a new ad. It appeared to be an attempt to respond to criticisms of sexual harassment complaints and non-disclosure agreements at the mayor's company, Bloomberg L.P.
When asked about those issues and that criticism, the mayor's longtime companion, Diana Taylor, said this to CBS News:
"It was 30 years ago. Get over it," she said.
WHY THIS DEBATE MATTERED
The South Carolina primary scheduled for Saturday will be the fourth Democratic presidential nominating contest, and the first in the south. The Charleston debate was the last before Super Tuesday on March 3, when 14 states will pick their Democratic candidates, a slate that includes California and Texas, two states with hundreds of pledged delegates at stake, far more than the first four nominating contents combined. Some of those states are also partial or full open primary states, which means Democrats will not be the only people voting Tuesday.
So Tuesday night's debate was the last chance for the candidates to speak to the nation and share their policies to voters before they go to the polls. The next two primary dates will feature over 1,350 delegates for the Democratic National Convention. Historically, Super Tuesday helps to winnow out some of the underperforming candidates.
HOW DID CANDIDATES QUALIFY FOR THE DEBATE?
To qualify for this debate, a candidate must:
Have at least one pledged delegate from Iowa, New Hampshire, or Nevada.
Or they can meet polling requirements, which are:
Receive 10 percent or more support in at least four polls (a combination of national or single-state polls);
Or receive 12 percent or more support in two qualified single-state polls.
ADDITIONAL BLOOMBERG 2020 COVERAGE
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