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Wednesday's debate turned into an all-out brawl, and Bloomberg took the most punches

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Mike Bloomberg
Bernie Sanders walks past Mike Bloomberg during the ninth Democratic primary debate at the Paris Theater in Las Vegas, Nev., on Feb. 19, 2020.Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images

LAS VEGAS — Wednesday night’s debate here was no ordinary Vegas prize fight.

Instead, it looked more like a WWE wrestling match — with everyone body-slamming and pile-driving each other.

There was the candidate pile-on on Michael Bloomberg.

There was Amy Klobuchar versus Pete Buttigieg.

You had Buttigieg versus Bernie Sanders.

And you had Elizabeth Warren versus everybody, including even Sanders (which was a first in this Dem debate season).

Of course, the biggest individual news from the debate was Michael Bloomberg struggling to defend his stop-and-frisk record as New York City mayor, as well as the non-disclosure agreements his company settled with women.

“None of them accuse me of doing anything, other than maybe they didn't like a joke I told,” Bloomberg said last night.

Maybe the top beneficiary from all the attention on Bloomberg’s rough night was Sanders, who went into Wednesday night as the Dem front-runner, and who — despite plenty of scrutiny and taking several punches — wasn’t the No. 1 story.

It also helped Warren; her campaign says it raised more than $1 million in the two hours of the debate.

And it helped Joe Biden, too; the weaker Bloomberg looks, the stronger Biden appears.

The question we have going into Saturday’s Nevada caucuses is whether Biden or Warren can have a surprising finish in the contest, getting one more look from Democratic voters after their disappointing performances in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 16 minutes and 35 seconds

Sixteen minutes and 35 seconds.

That was the amount of time for which Elizabeth Warren spoke at last night’s Democratic debate, per NBC News’ count — more than any other candidate last night.

Here’s everyone’s speaking time:

  • Warren: 16:35
  • Klobuchar: 16:03
  • Sanders: 15:15
  • Buttigieg: 14:49
  • Biden: 13:23
  • Bloomberg: 13:22

2020 Vision: Get ready for convention chaos

Maybe the most fascinating news from the debate came at the very end, when one of us asked this question: Should the candidate with the most pledged delegates from the primaries — even if it’s short of a majority – be the nominee?

Five of the candidates appeared to say no; the convention process should play out, they argued.

Bloomberg on whether the convention should work its will: "Yes."

Warren: “A convention working its will means that people have the delegates that are pledged to them and they keep those delegates until you come to the convention.”

Biden: “Let the process work its way out.”

Buttigieg: “Not until there's a majority.”

Klobuchar: “Let the process work.”

The one exception was Bernie Sanders: “Well, the process includes 500 superdelegates on the second ballot. So I think that the will of the people should prevail, yes. The person who has the most votes should become the nominee.

But as we’ve written before, Sanders had a different view in 2016, when Hillary Clinton had a majority of pledged delegates and a majority of all delegates by June.

Bottom line: Everyone might want to brace themselves for convention chaos in Milwaukee.

On the campaign trail today

The day after the debate, Pete Buttigieg stumps in Los Angeles… Mike Bloomberg hits Salt Lake City… Amy Klobuchar hits Denver... Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren participate in CNN town halls in Las Vegas… And Tom Steyer also campaigns in the city.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

Amy Klobuchar wasn’t overall pleased by the Democratic debate last night, she told NBC’s Amanda Golden and Gary Grumbach in the spin room afterward: “I think that we should have been talking more about Donald Trump. I tried, I valiantly tried, but I think that the future, I hope another debate, that we remember who is out there,” Klobuchar said. “Like I said, it is a bunch of people who haven’t been tuned in, there is a bunch of people who have stayed home in 2016 or moderate Republicans or independents, I think they deserve better than a slug fest. I think they deserve someone that is willing to make the point about Donald Trump.”

And Elizabeth Warren told NBC’s Priscilla Thompson and Deepa Shivaram that her statements about Bloomberg were necessary. “I thought it was important for everybody to see exactly who that man is. This is a man who evidently has harassed women discriminated against women and then covered it all up with non-disclosure agreements. This is a man who defended racist policies like red-lining and stop and frisk it’s time to say if Michael Bloomberg wants to help us win the nomination let’s do it. Michael Bloomberg, put your money in, but take your ego off the stage,” she said.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

U.S. ambassador to Germany and Trump ally, Richard Grenell, is to become acting head of intelligence.

China expelled three journalists from The Wall Street Journal.

At least 11 people are dead from a shooting in Germany being described as a “far-right terror attack.”

Some concerns about the Nevada caucus counting arise during early voting.

And Harry Reid says the Democratic presidential race is far from over.

Trump Agenda: Cleaning house

Trump calls for the DOJ to clean house on Twitter.

John Bolton said that his testimony WOULDN’T have changed the impeachment trial outcome.

The White House is assembling a team to guide President Trump through pardons, separate from DOJ.

2020: About last night

Sahil Kapur writes about who won the Democratic slugfest last night.

The Democratic debate proved that for many candidates, time is running out .

Bloomberg may not have debated well, but his presence put others on notice.