Team Bloomberg has been preparing for weeks for tonight’s debate, and the campaign has already previewed a rebuttal to criticisms like the kind that Sanders and Warren might offer: “Promising to spend trillions of dollars of taxpayer money just to get yourself elected is buying an election,” Bradley Tusk, a Bloomberg campaign adviser, told my colleague Edward-Isaac Dovere this week. “Using money you earned to run a campaign that does not need or take money from any outside interest is laudable.” (The Bloomberg campaign did not respond to request for comment for this story.)
Tonight’s debate puts Bloomberg in a situation that he hasn’t been in for years, says Rebecca Katz, the founder of New Deal Strategies, a progressive political-consulting group. “That’s why we’re excited.”
Since announcing his candidacy in November of last year, the former New York mayor has shelled out about $183 million of his own money in TV advertising, more than all of the other candidates combined, plus nearly $50 million on digital platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. He has also skipped campaigning in the early-primary states in favor of spending time in Super Tuesday states, and he has invested deeply in the South, where the other presidential campaigns have less of a presence. Those efforts, at least for now, are paying off: The former mayor has skyrocketed to the near-top of national polls, where he is currently vying for second place with former Vice President Joe Biden, according to FiveThirtyEight.
“It’s the first time that the vast majority of Democrats who live outside of New York are going to have any real exposure to Bloomberg’s politics and character and personality,” Raskin said, and candidates will use tonight to expose his vulnerabilities. Senator Amy Klobuchar, in an interview on CNN last weekend, challenged Bloomberg to come onstage, saying she doesn’t think he “should be able to hide behind airwaves and huge ad buys.” And Warren tweeted yesterday that, while “it’s a shame Mike Bloomberg can buy his way into the debate,” at least tonight’s viewers will “get a live demonstration of how we each take on an egomaniac billionaire.”
Raskin said he expects Warren to place special emphasis on Bloomberg’s defense of the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk program, which has been criticized for unfairly targeting black Americans and Latinos, and to bring up Bloomberg’s past sexist comments and the dozens of sexual-harassment complaints and lawsuits brought against the candidate and his namesake company. Warren can also be counted on to confront Bloomberg about his 2008 remark blaming the financial collapse on the end of redlining, or racial discrimination in mortgage lending, says Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a political-action committee that has endorsed Warren. “She is uniquely capable of connecting the dots between Bloomberg being an apologist for Wall Street, and that being synonymous with discrimination against black and brown communities,” Green says.