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Bloomberg qualifies for next Democratic debate

The late entrant to the presidential race got the final poll he needed to make the debate stage in Las Vegas.
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Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg on Tuesday qualified for his first appearance in a Democratic presidential primary debate.

The billionaire media mogul received 19 percent of support from an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, allowing him to join the stage at the Feb. 19 debate in Las Vegas.

The poll is the latest in a series of national and statewide surveys that have shown Bloomberg rising in the race. His competitors have increasingly taken him to task over past remarks and some of his policies as mayor, while accusing him of seeking to buy the nomination with his vast wealth.

Candidates need four national polls showing 10 percent or higher support or 12 percent or more in two single-state polls of Nevada and South Carolina. They have until 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 18 to qualify for the debate, which is being hosted by NBC News, MSNBC and the Nevada Independent.

Candidates can also qualify by winning at least one delegate from the Iowa caucus or the New Hampshire primary. To date, former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have all qualified for the stage, according to an unofficial NBC News survey.

"Our campaign is seeing a groundswell of support across the country, and qualifying for the February 19 debate is the latest sign that Mike’s plan and ability to defeat Donald Trump is resonating with more and more Americans," Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said in a statement Tuesday. "Mike is looking forward to joining the other Democratic candidates on stage and making the case for why he's the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump and unite the country."

Bloomberg's fellow billionaire in the race, Tom Steyer, has yet to hit either the polling or the delegate benchmark to qualify. He sent a letter to Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez complaining that the time frame for the polling is too short and urging the DNC to allow in older polls. The DNC has not budged.

The DNC announced last month that it was doing away with the grassroots donor threshold that had been used in the qualifications for the previous eight debates.

The campaign of Sanders — who leads in national polls, according to a RealClearPolitics average— has accused the DNC of doing Bloomberg's bidding with the rule change.

Bloomberg had not qualified for earlier debates because he was not accepting campaign donations.

"To now change the rules in the middle of the game to accommodate Mike Bloomberg, who is trying to buy his way into the Democratic nomination, is wrong," Jeff Weaver, one of Sanders' top advisers, said then. "That's the definition of a rigged system."

A senior adviser to Andrew Yang, who dropped out of the race last week, also criticized the change as being pro-Bloomberg.

"If you look at the new DNC debate thresholds as anything other than, 'Get Andrew Yang off stage and put Mike Bloomberg on,' then you are high," the adviser, Brad Bauman, tweeted after the announcement.

President Donald Trump suggested to reporters in the Oval Office Tuesday that Bloomberg would not be a good addition to the stage. "He’s a lightweight. He’s also one of the worst debaters I’ve ever seen. His presence is zero," Trump said.