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.
Highlights from the Las Vegas Democratic debate:
- Who won the Democratic debate in Las Vegas?
- ANALYSIS: Finally, the fight Democrats have been waiting for.
- Debate rivals hammer Bloomberg over 'stop and frisk' policing in NYC.
- Warren comes out swinging and lands several punches.
Who won the Democratic debate in Las Vegas?
Bloomberg became a piñata, and Warren resurrected her feisty side.
The Democratic candidates formed a circular firing squad Wednesday night, with arrows flying in all directions and fights breaking out among a seemingly infinite permutation of candidates on matters from health care policy to lewd comments about women.
The debate was not only the former New York mayor's first time on a presidential debate stage; it was also the first night of his surging campaign that wasn't choreographed. The result: He faced direct criticism from rivals he has bested in recent polls. It was the most contentious evening of the nine faceoffs so far, coming three days before the Democratic candidates face the most diverse voting electorate yet in their quest to make Donald Trump a one-term president.
"It's a little bit like a presidential version of 'Survivor,'" former Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said on MSNBC after the debate.
Here's a look at who was the most aggressive, who took the toughest punches and who missed their marks over the course of the debate, which was hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, Telemundo and The Nevada Independent.
McCaskill: Las Vegas debate was 'a presidential version of "Survivor"'
Warren says she had her best fundraising day ever
Warren says Bloomberg will spend money to 'erase America's memory' of the debate
Speaking with MSNBC after the debate ended, Warren said Bloomberg will spend a bunch more money in the coming days "in order to try to erase America's memory of what happened on that debate stage."
Warren brought what many considered to be the strongest performance of the night, highlighted by her repeated tough exchanges with Bloomberg, who was making his first debate appearance.
After the debate, Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said in a statement: "You know you are a winner when you are drawing attacks from all the candidates."
"Everyone came to destroy Mike tonight. It didn't happen," he said, adding, "He was just warming up tonight."
Why the Nevada debate may not swing the Nevada contest
Debate watch Las Vegas: As debate comes to an end, some in Vegas feel little hope
In the last minutes of the Democratic debate, Corey Harris looked at the large screen broadcasting the event and shook his head.
"I think the Democrats are in a lot of trouble and there is still a lot of division” said Harris, 41, who watched at Layla's Palace Banquet Hall in east Las Vegas.
Harris, a stockbroker, said he's been underwhelmed by the candidates' responses to questions throughout the debate. He was hoping the debate would display a standout candidate that could beat Trump, but "I'm not impressed with anyone on that stage right now."
Barbara Gomez, 45, said she understands that while the point of a debate is to outshine the other competitors, she felt discouraged by the excessive mudslinging she witnessed tonight.
Gomez, a mother of four who works in customer service for a major airline, said she believes Warren stood out on stage as poised and intelligent. However, she did not feel any of the candidates, including Warren, appeared strong enough to win in general election after watching the debate.
"As a minority, as a woman and as an immigrant, this makes me really scared," she said. "I'm scared there's not going to be someone who can get what we currently have out."
Biden talks Bloomberg in post-debate interview
Biden in a post-debate interview with MSNBC said he told Bloomberg after the debate, "Welcome to the party, man."
He added that Bloomberg's "basic values" are still in alignment with the Republican Party and criticized him for running ads that show "he and Obama are such good buddies" when Bloomberg didn't support Barack Obama in 2008.
Immigration pits Buttigieg against Klobuchar
The Buttigieg-Klobuchar competition to be the centrist candidate flared again when Buttigieg hammered Klobuchar on immigration. As Klobuchar advocated for immigrants known as Dreamers, Buttigieg reminded her that she voted to confirm the current head of Customs and Border Protection, Kevin McAleenan, and voted in 2007 to "make English the national language."
"Do you know the message that sends in a multilingual state as Nevada?" Buttigieg asked Klobuchar.
The 2007 vote was to reverse an executive order that required federal agencies to produce materials in other languages. Buttigieg used the clash as an opportunity to brag about his work starting a municipal ID program for immigrants in South Bend, Indiana.
Klobuchar has since said her 2007 vote on the language issue was wrong. On stage, she said other Democrats voted similarly and McAleenan was "highly recommended by Obama officials." She listed other work she's done on immigration reform as someone who has been "in the arena."
"You have not been in the arena doing that work," she retorted. "You've memorized a bunch of talking points."
Candidates give their closing statements
And that's a wrap.
After one of the most fiery debates this cycle in which each candidate hit their rivals hard, those on stage tonight ended by talking about fighting for all Americans and uniting the Democratic Party to get the nomination.
Here are their closing statements, paraphrased:
Klobuchar: What unites us is much bigger than divides us. I'm the candidate who can build coalitions. I've won a lot of races, and you need someone who can govern. I passed over 100 bills. You need someone who has the heart to be president. I love the people of this country, and I ask for your vote.
Bloomberg: This is a management job, and Donald Trump is not a manager. This is a job where you have build teams. He doesn't have a team. We cannot run the railroad like that. The people we elect should have experience and they should have credentials, and then we should hold them accountable the next time they don't do the job.
Buttigieg: I am asking for your vote because America is running out of time. This is our only chance to beat Donald Trump. If you see a choice between a revolution and the status quo and you don't see where you fit in, you have a home in my campaign. We need to move us out of the toxic environment and polarization. We can't afford to lean on the same Washington playbook.
Warren: I grew up fighting. I watched my mother fight for my family after my father had a heart attack. I eventually made it through school and spent my life as a teacher. I spent years learning how working families were being hurt. I've been a politician the shortest time, but I've been the one out here fighting for families the longest time. Give me a chance and I'll go the White House and fight for your family.
Biden: I'm running because so many people are being left behind. I've been knocked down a hell of a lot. We have to provide safety and security. I'm the only one who beat the National Rifle Association, and I beat them twice. Health care has to be expanded. Obamacare has to be expanded. We have to pass immigration reform.
Sanders: All of us are united in defeating Donald Trump. We are the only major country on Earth that does not provide health care as a basic human right. We have people sleeping on the streets. Kids can't afford college or have student debt. Real change takes place from the bottom up. We need to mobilize millions of people to stand up for justice.