EVENT ENDED

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

Welcome to Nevada, Democrats

When the Democratic debate kicked off tonight, candidates spoke to voters across the country but perhaps most directly to Nevada’s 3 million residents and 1.27 million registered voters — an audience far more diverse and representative of America than voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the first two nominating contests took place this month.

In Nevada, where white residents do not make up the majority, about 43.8 percent of registered voters were black, Latino, Asian or Native American in 2016. White Nevada residents make up about 48.7 percent of the total population, while Latinos make up about 29 percent of the state’s residents. Another 10 percent of the state’s population is black, nearly 9 percent Asian and 1.7 percent are Native American. That demographic makeup suggests that candidates who want to win in Nevada may have to be prepared to speak about, prioritize and fund policies that may be of limited interest or concern to the overwhelmingly white voters in New Hampshire and Iowa.

In Iowa, white residents make up about 85 percent of the population, and in New Hampshire, it's 90 percent.

The crowd is rowdy in Vegas

Oohs and ahhs accompanying the many haymakers getting thrown on the debate stage — something that might encourage the candidates to keep up the direct attacks.

Klobuchar piles on to Bloomberg

Klobuchar took her first speaking opportunity to add to attacks against Bloomberg, urging him not to hide behind his TV ads and criticizing his campaign for suggesting other candidates should drop out so Bloomberg can stop Sanders from winning the nomination. 

"I have been told many times to wait my turn and step aside and I’m not going to do that," Klobuchar said. 

"I think we need something different than Donald Trump. I don’t think you look at Donald Trump and say we need someone richer," she said, taking another dig at Bloomberg. 

Warren hits Bloomberg over 'sexist' comments, 'racist' policies

Warren came out swinging at Bloomberg in the first moments of the debate, using Bloomberg's past comments against him. 

"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," she said. 

This was a direct hit at Bloomberg’s past reported comments toward women. Warren argued that we can’t elect another billionaire. 

"Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of harassing women, and of supporting racist policies like redlining and stop and frisk," she said. "Look, I'll support whoever the democratic nominee is, but understand this: Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another."

Bernie hits Bloomberg on stop and frisk in first answer of the debate

First question of the night went to Sanders, who was asked why his message of a political revolution is a better path to beating Trump than Bloomberg's message.

Sanders immediately moved to hit Bloomberg for past policies like stop-and-frisk, and pivoted to a summary of his campaign stump speech and said he will take on the fossil fuel industry, raise the minimum wage and guarantee healthcare.

Bloomberg fired back, saying he thinks there's no chance Sanders can win.

"If he goes and is the candidate, we will have Donald Trump for another four years and we can't stand that," he said.

And they're off!

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. arrive on stage for the Democratic presidential primary debate on Feb. 19, 2020 in Las Vegas.Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Bloomberg ready for the stage

Debate watch Detroit: Local alumni of historic black fraternity still looking for a candidate to back

DETROIT — As they gathered in a sports bar near downtown Detroit to watch tonight's debate, members of the Detroit Alphas, a local chapter of the nation's oldest black fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, are sure about this: They want black voters in Detroit to show up and vote in large numbers. The fraternity has plans to work hard this year to register voters and encourage black turnout.

For now, though, most said they're still far from decided about whom they should back.

"I'm watching to see where people are going to fall on the issues that are important to me," said Chad King, 37, an IT professional and a local co-chair of the fraternity's voter education program, A Voteless People is a Hopeless People. His issues include voting rights, slavery reparations, gun rights and the wealth gap between whites and African Americans. Other members listed college affordability and health care among their priorities as well as — importantly — who could beat President Donald Trump in November.

William Lyons, 50, a director with the Detroit Public Schools police department and a former Detroit police officer, said he would vote for Mike Bloomberg for his ability to go "power to power" with Trump, but said he will be listening closely tonight to see what Bloomberg says about his stop-and-frisk policy in New York, which he thought involved racial profiling. "To me, that would be an issue," Lyons said.  

Black voters are a key demographic in Michigan, where a drop in black turnout is often cited as a key reason why Hillary Clinton lost this state to Donald Trump by about 11,000 votes in 2016. The Michigan primary is March 10. 

Harry Reid addresses debate audience, saying Nevada should vote first

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., spoke at the Las Vegas debate less than an hour before it was set to begin and made the case for Nevada to be the first voting state in the Democratic primary process.

"Iowa and New Hampshire do not represent the makeup of the United States," Reid said. "We should have Nevada as the first state to vote."

Klobuchar's team previews debate

Amy Klobuchar’s campaign asserts that the Minnesota senator has had consistently strong debate performances and adds that, broadly speaking, she has never shied away from drawing contrasts with people on stage.

That could include Mike Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders. The newest addition to the debate stage, Bloomberg is going to be a target of the candidates, and, in a shot at Sanders, Klobuchar didn't shy away from raising her hand at the last debate and saying she didn’t feel that a socialist should lead the Democratic ticket. Her campaign expects her to lean into that belief, especially with her position on health care and other issues central to Nevadans. 

Her campaign tells NBC News that it has every expectation she will do well tonight — and Klobuchar is one of the candidates who need to do better than expected in Nevada and beyond. The campaign added that authenticity is really important, and Klobuchar really needs to be herself this evening and have it come across in the same way that it did just over a week ago.

A source close to the senator tells NBC News that she needs another success like the New Hampshire debate, noting it would be hard to make the case of a “surge” if she has a bad night. But the campaign stresses that tonight is not a make-or-break moment for their performance come Saturday’s caucus, in part because there has already been a lot of early voting.