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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.

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Highlights from the Las Vegas Democratic debate:

Live Blog

ANALYSIS: Finally, the fight Democrats have been waiting for

Democratic voters just wanted to know who could fight President Donald Trump best.

Now, after more than a year, their candidates are brawling with bare knuckles. It took that long because boxing with kid gloves was a low-risk way for the candidates to ease into the race. But that approach let Trump gather his strength.

Pressure has changed the incentives: Bernie Sanders stretching his lead in national polls, Mike Bloomberg dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into his campaign, and two contests having decided nothing. So, there is an outright brawl on stage tonight.

Democratic voters may be left wondering why the field was so willing to avoid conflict for so long.

Trump has been the focus of most candidate attacks in previous debates. Not tonight.

Mike Bloomberg has taken President Donald Trump's place as the punching bag on the debate stage at tonight's Democratic debate: 50 minutes into the debate and Trump has been attacked five times, while Bloomberg is at 29.

Get the latest numbers at our candidate attack tracker, and see how many times Trump was attacked in previous debates here:

Bloomberg the unity candidate?

In what has been at times been the most contentious Democratic debate yet, there’s one thing that gets most of the stage on the same page: going after Bloomberg.

Bloomberg battles Biden, Warren on stop-and-frisk

Bloomberg was pressed on his police department’s use of stop-and-frisk while he was mayor.

Bloomberg initially said: "Well, if I go back and look at my time in office, the one thing that I'm really worried about, embarrassed about, is how it turned out with stop-and-frisk."

He added that he believed his first responsibility as mayor was to "give people the right to live" and cut down on murders, but he said it got "out of control."

Biden cut in, saying that it’s not about whether Bloomberg apologized, it’s about the "abhorrent" policy.

Bloomberg said that if the stage couldn’t have candidates who were "wrong on criminal justice at some time in their career, there'd be no one up here."

Warren then criticized Bloomberg’s apology, saying he focused on how stop-and-frisk turned out rather than apologizing for "what it was designed to do in the beginning," saying Bloomberg was being willfully ignorant about its impact on black and brown New Yorkers.

Audible reaction from Vegas crowd as Buttigieg jabs Sanders over union support

LAS VEGAS — There was a round of “ohs” that echoed through Layla’s Palace Banquet Hall in East Las Vegas when Buttigieg criticized Sanders for being at “at war” with the Culinary Union in Las Vegas. 

Last week the Culinary Union, Nevada’s largest and most politically influential union, distributed flyers that stated Sanders’ plan would “end Culinary Healthcare,” according to The Nevada Independent. The organization, which represents 60,000 casino workers, opposed Sanders’ universal healthcare plan because they said it would eliminate the health insurance the union fought to get for its members.

Two top union officials said they received threatening messages by phone, email and Twitter from Sanders’ supporters last week. Sanders condemned the attacks against union officials.

Roughly 70 people came to the banquet hall for a debate watch party. The event is hosted by Nevada Conservation League, an advocacy organization that describes itself as “the independent political voice” for Nevada’s conservation and environmental community. Organizers say they expect nearly 200 people to attend the watch party. 

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.”