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Las Vegas Democratic debate live updates: Six candidates faced off in Nevada

The ninth Democratic debate may have been the feistiest one yet.

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Sparks flew during the ninth Democratic presidential debate, with five veteran debaters and one newcomer facing off on stage on Wednesday.

Wednesday's debate was the first for billionaire former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who took considerable heat from the other candidates on stage over his treatment of women and defense of stop and frisk.

The debate, hosted by NBC News, MSNBC and The Nevada Independent, put pressure on Bernie Sanders to defend his position as a leading candidate in the run-up to Nevada's caucuses on Saturday, while moderates Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar — and now Bloomberg — looked to widen their bases, and Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren sought a boost after failing to meet early expectations.

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Highlights from the Las Vegas Democratic debate:

Live Blog

Election Confessions, Nevada edition

This is Nevada’s week to choose. Considered something of bellwether, Nevada will be the first Western state to assign its delegates for the 2020 presidential election when it holds its caucuses Saturday.

Unsurprisingly, many of its residents have already made a decision.

NBC News asked readers to share their innermost thoughts about the slate of Democrats and Republicans in the 2020 presidential race.

Here's how Nevadans answered.

OPINION: Bernie Sanders isn't the front-runner in the Democratic race. The moderates are.

Progressives are selling revolution, and it once seemed as though the only question was who would be the leader. Back in October, the party’s left wing of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren appeared ascendant. While moderate Joe Biden was the top-polling candidate, combined support for progressives in the race easily beat Biden’s numbers.

Now that voting has gotten underway, Sanders is the apparent answer. The media quickly proclaimed him the front-runner after he took the most votes (albeit by a razor-thin margin) in New Hampshire, demonstrating that he had consolidated the support of the progressive wing of Democratic voters to lead in the polls.

But the rush to crown Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont and self-proclaimed democratic socialist, as the heir apparent to the Democratic nomination overlooks a central dynamic. Sanders is topping the polls as Biden’s support has eroded and the moderate lane has completely fractured. Yet the combined backing for progressive candidates is much lower than it was in the fall — in fact, it now trails the combined support for moderates considerably.

Read the full opinion piece.

ANALYSIS: Bloomberg spin machine on full blast

Mike Bloomberg's team did a lot of spinning before the debate to hedge against a poor performance and turn a decent outing into a Hall of Fame performance. Will it work? We'll see. But the mechanics are easy to follow:

  1. Make it seem like everyone is going to attack him relentlessly, so he's both the most important figure on the stage and the one who is most likely to take a beating. CHECK.
  2. Set the expectations bar for his performance as low as possible so it's easy to clear. His campaign manager, Kevin Sheekey, has said Bloomberg will defend his record, pointed to the things Bloomberg has done to help progressive causes and noted how many cities and states Bloomberg has campaigned in. What he hasn't done: said Bloomberg will debate like Lincoln on PEDs and wipe the floor with his rivals. Make sure the boss has an easy standard to beat. CHECK.
  3. Use the pre-debate period to put other candidates on the defensive. Sheekey wrote a memo Wednesday that said other candidates should drop out to prevent Bernie Sanders from winning an insurmountable delegate lead through Super Tuesday on March 3. Force rivals who have actually won votes to defend their existence. CHECK.

Sanders, trying to head off Bloomberg threat, finds his billionaire foil

Lately, there's been a billionaire on Sen. Bernie Sanders' mind.

Not the anonymous legion of billionaires he's railed about for years — but a real one: former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, whose unprecedented spending is threatening to upend the traditional primary process.

"We believe in old-fashioned democracy: one person, one vote, not billionaires buying elections," Sanders said at a rally here Friday afternoon, fresh off his victory in the New Hampshire primary earlier in the week.

The looming Bloomberg threat has Sanders, the current front-runner in national polls, juggling an election fight on two fronts: maintaining an early states operation to keep his other opponents, also no fans of Bloomberg, at bay while holding rallies and deploying more resources to Super Tuesday states like North Carolina, Texas and Colorado to head off the former mayor.

Read what's bugging Bernie.

'Sanity' and 'inclusion' among Bloomberg's talking points

NBC News/WSJ poll: Sanders opens up double-digit national lead in primary race

Sen. Bernie Sanders has jumped out to a double-digit national lead in the Democratic presidential contest after his victory in New Hampshire's primary and his second-place finish for delegates in Iowa's disorganized caucuses, while former Vice President Joe Biden has seen his support drop by 11 points since his disappointing finishes in both contests, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday.

The survey also shows former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg gaining ground in the Democratic race in the past month, confirming the findings of an earlier NPR/PBS/Marist poll that allowed him to qualify for Wednesday night's NBC News and MSNBC Democratic debate in Las Vegas.

And the poll has President Donald Trump's approval rating tied for his all-time high in the NBC News/WSJ survey, while also finding that the most unpopular candidate qualities in a general election are being a socialist, being older than 75 years of age and having a heart attack in the past year.

Read the full poll results.

NBC News' Hallie Jackson is moderating for two tonight