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

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

Bloomberg will not stand on a box tonight

Bloomberg campaign officials tell NBC News that Mike Bloomberg has decided not to stand on a box behind the lectern to boost his height during Wednesday night's debate.

President Donald Trump has for days claimed, without evidence, that Bloomberg had requested a box to stand on during the debate. Trump returned to this theme as recently as Tuesday, tweeting about Bloomberg, "remember, no standing on boxes!"

But the campaign officials tell NBC News that Bloomberg will stand on the floor like the rest of the candidates. Bloomberg was seen familiarizing himself with the lectern set up on Wednesday afternoon during his candidate walkthrough of the debate stage.

Trump has seemed to have a longstanding preoccupation with Bloomberg’s height. He falsely claimed last week that Bloomberg is 5'4". The former New York mayor is actually 5'7" or 5'8", according to various reports over the years.

Biden to attack Sanders on immigration, Bloomberg on 'character'

Two senior Biden campaign officials briefed reporters ahead of tonight’s ninth Democratic debate, previewing the two-front battle we expect to see the former VP wage as he takes aim at what he sees as the two biggest hurdles to his comeback in this race: Mike Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders.

The officials previewed a new line of attack on Sanders that has not been part of Biden's pitch in Nevada so far: immigration. The campaign said Biden aimed to zero in on Sanders' vote against a comprehensive immigration reform plan in the Senate in 2007.

But their toughest rhetoric was aimed at Bloomberg as part of a day of back-and-forth pre-debate sparring between Biden and Bloomberg.

Bloomberg is "profoundly unvetted," one Biden adviser said, noting the volume of stories with problematic past statements. "Sixty-billion can buy you a lot of ads, but it cannot erase your record and it cannot purchase character," the adviser said, echoing comments made by the candidate Sunday on "Meet the Press."

Las Vegas Democratic debate: Growing animosity between Buttigieg, Klobuchar could flare up

In one corner, we have a mild-mannered Midwestern moderate, looking to appeal to centrist Democrats and disillusioned Republicans.

And in the other corner ... we have a mild-mannered Midwestern moderate, looking to appeal to centrist Democrats and disillusioned Republicans.

Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar are competing for the same voters, and with both rising in polls and in prominence, the gloves have come off.

The growing animosity between the two, however, could threaten both of their candidacies, experts told NBC News, especially if it spills over onto Wednesday's debate stage.

Read the full story.