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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.

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.

Download the NBC News app for full politics coverage.

Highlights from the Las Vegas Democratic debate:

Early on, Sanders and Warren lead all other candidates in talking time

Thirty minutes into the debate and the tiers on talking time have emerged: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on the top, everyone else at the bottom.

Follow our candidate talking time tracker here.

Biden jumps in to defend Obamacare

Biden interjected in the health care debate and forcefully defended his health care plans, saying that Obama turned to him to get the Affordable Care Act passed. He also attacked Bloomberg for criticizing Obamacare.

"The mayor said, when we passed it, the signature piece of this administration, 'It's a disgrace.' They're the exact words. 'It was a disgrace.' Look it up, check it out, 'It was a disgrace.'"

This was Biden's second time speaking after several skirmishes on stage between the candidates. Biden argued that he fought for a Medicare-for-All-like public option that could be paid for by making sure people like Bloomberg paid the same tax rate as his secretary. 

Biden is entering this debate wounded after poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire and lagging in the polls, but this moment, forcefully defending Obama's signature legislative achievement, was his strongest tonight so far.

Warren burns rivals over health care plans

Warren, who supports Medicare for All, was asked directly about how she would overhaul the American health care system and hit Buttigieg over his health care plan, which she called a PowerPoint more than a plan.

She hit Klobuchar even harder, calling her plan a "Post-It note" with a line that says "insert plan here."

Buttigieg was ready with a retort, "I’m more of a Microsoft Word guy." Klobuchar pointed out that Post-It notes were invented in her state, Minnesota.

Warren not sounding out unity theme

Sanders distances himself from toxic online support

Sanders is known to have some fervent online supporters, some real and some... well, who knows. Tonight, he distanced himself from what he termed as the 0.01 percent of his support that has garnered attention for its toxic attacks. 

“I disown those people,” Sanders said. “They are not part of my movement.”

Biden, Sanders mirror each others' language on any supporters' online attacks

Buttigieg goes after Bloomberg, Sanders: Let's nominate someone 'who's actually a Democrat'

Buttigieg hit Bloomberg over his wealth and his past party affiliation in his first attack on the billionaire businessman. He said it’s time for someone who actually is from a midwestern city and knows middle-class values to be the nominee. Bloomberg has been a Republican and Independent before running as a Democrat. 

He also hit Sanders as divisive to which the Vermont lawmaker hit back saying that he is building a campaign of working people and giving them a voice unlike Buittgieg’s billionaire donors. 

"And most Americans don't see where they fit if they've got to choose between a socialist who thinks that capitalism is the root of all evil, and a billionaire that thinks ... money ought to be the root of all power,” Buttigieg said. “Let's put forward somebody who actually lives and works in a middle class neighborhood, in an industrial mid-western city. Let's put forward somebody who's actually a Democrat."

Buttigieg’s attacks on both Sanders and Bloomberg has been his strategy to carve out a moderate lane in the primary and cast himself as someone who can get realistic policies passed.

Candidates came ready to fight

Right out of the gate, candidates came guns blazing at Bloomberg. Warren started, essentially making the direct comparison between Bloomberg’s past controversial remarks and Trump’s. Other candidates joined in, like Klobuchar, Biden and Buttigieg. The haymakers were flying, punches thrown, barbs most certainly traded. 

But the debate shifted once Buttigieg went after both Bloomberg and Sanders, who then entered a back-and-forth with the younger of the two ex-mayors on stage.

Bloomberg was attacked 10 times in the first 10 minutes of the debate.

Ten minutes into the debate and Mike Bloomberg has already been attacked 10 times. Pete Buttigieg, another former mayor, and Elizabeth Warren have led the attacks with three apiece, though Warren's early attack on how Bloomberg has talked about women received the largest reaction in the debate crowd. Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders have also taken part. 

Get the latest numbers with our candidate attack tracker.

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!

Image: Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate In Las Vegas Ahead Of Nevada Caucuses
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.

Biden, Warren join culinary workers' picket line

Image: Joe Biden joins the picket line with the Culinary Workers Union outside the Palms Casino in Las Vegas on Feb. 19, 2020.
Joe Biden joins the picket line with the Culinary Workers Union outside the Palms Casino in Las Vegas on Feb. 19, 2020.Patrick Semansky / AP
Image: Sen. Elizabeth Warren shakes hands with members of the Culinary Workers Union on their picket line outside of the Palms Casino in Las Vegas on Feb. 19, 2020.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren shakes hands with members of the Culinary Workers Union on their picket line outside of the Palms Casino in Las Vegas on Feb. 19, 2020.Mario Tama / Getty Images

Warren says Sanders 'has a lot of questions to answer' about his supporters' online attacks

Bernie Sanders "has a lot of questions to answer" about how his supporters attacked members of a union online after they criticized his "Medicare for All" health care plan, Elizabeth Warren said Monday.

"I've said before that we are all responsible for what our supporters do, and I think Bernie has a lot of questions to answer here," Warren, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, said in an interview in which she offered rare criticism of her fellow progressive Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont.

"I am particularly worried about what happened in the attacks on members of the culinary union, particularly on the women in leadership," Warren said. "That is not how we build an inclusive Democratic Party. ... We do not build on a foundation of hate."

Read the story.

Biden, Sanders tied for support of Nevada's Latino voters, Telemundo poll finds

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are in a statistical tie for about a third each of Nevada Latinos’ caucus vote, but about 35 percent are aligned with other candidates or are undecided, according to a Telemundo poll released Tuesday.

The Feb. 10-12 poll of 625 registered Latino voters in Nevada found 34 percent support Biden and 31 percent support Sanders.

Support for all the other candidates was in the single digits. Combined with the 12 percent who said they were undecided, the share not committed to Sanders or Biden was 35 percent.

Read more on the poll results.

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

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.

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Mike Bloomberg bets on zigging while other presidential candidates are zagging

Mike Bloomberg had an unusual request for the hundred or so supporters waiting patiently in the rain: Please go home.

It was an overflow crowd outside from the overflow crowd inside. Inside the Chattanooga African American Museum behind him, 500 people were awaiting the former New York mayor. Another 400 who couldn't fit filled up a second room, where his campaign arranged television screens to pipe in his speech.

So, for the remaining few getting soaked outside, Bloomberg cut them loose. He said his campaign could simply email them his speech instead.

"Don't get too cold," he said.

Late to the game but flush with endless amounts of cash, Bloomberg is running a campaign that bears almost no resemblance to that of any other 2020 candidate. If there are rules for winning the White House, Bloomberg is making a billion-dollar bet that in the America that elected Donald Trump president, the rules no longer matter.

Read more about Bloomberg's unorthodox campaign.

Bloomberg making Democratic debate debut in Las Vegas. His past faceoffs may shed light on how he'll fare.

One Democratic rival took Mike Bloomberg to task over past remarks he's made about everything from domestic violence to policing. Another for funding Republican campaigns. Still another hit him for allegations of buying political favor.

That was in 2001, 2005 and 2009, respectively: the last three times Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York, stood behind a podium and faced off against political rivals. But by the end of Wednesday's Democratic debate in Las Vegas, the first for he which has qualified, he's likely to have weathered similar attacks — and more.

Read how Bloomberg has been preparing for the spotlight and the scrutiny — and how he's performed in past debates over the years.

Everything you need to know about tonight's debate

The ninth Democratic presidential debate is set for Wednesday in Las Vegas, and it will feature a new billionaire on the stage.

While Mike Bloomberg qualified to make the debate stage for the first time, Tom Steyer, the other billionaire in the race who's been a frequent presence at the Democratic debates, did not.

The debate is the last before the Nevada caucuses on Saturday.

Here's what you need to know.

5 things to watch for at tonight's debate

Mike Bloomberg is in.

In a development that promises to shake up the race, the wealthy entrepreneur and former mayor of New York City qualified for Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate with just hours to spare after a new poll showed him surging nationally into the runner-up position behind Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

The two campaigns are spoiling for a fight and increasingly depicting the contest as a two-man race. Each views the other as an ideal foil — a self-described democratic socialist calling for a “revolution” to take on the wealthy elite, and an economically centrist billionaire who preaches the virtues of capitalism and hard work.

A weekend spat between Sanders and Bloomberg appears likely to spill over into the six-person debate that will also include Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar. The debate will be hosted by NBC News, MSNBC and the Nevada Independent, beginning at 9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT.

Here are five things to watch for on Wednesday.