Bloomberg the likely target as he joins first Democratic debate

Bloomberg the likely target as he joins first Democratic debate
Bloomberg the likely target as he joins first Democratic debate

Three days before a crucial set of caucuses in the state of Nevada, the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination for President meet in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg will be on the debate stage for the first time, with top Democrats ready to take aim at the billionaire who has jumped up in the polls after spending millions on campaign ads nationwide.

"It's a shame Mike Bloomberg can buy his way into this debate," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), as Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have taken aim repeatedly at Bloomberg in recent days.

The debate comes as new polling not only qualified Bloomberg for the debate stage in Las Vegas, but also next Tuesday night in Charleston, South Carolina, just a week before a crucial round of primaries in fourteen states on Super Tuesday, March 3.

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Six candidates qualified for this debate - notably absent is another wealthy candidate who has been at the last two debates, Tom Steyer.

Iowa was just over two weeks ago - but so much has changed in the Democratic race, and in the polls.

Let's look at each candidate in this debate.

+ Joe Biden. After a rather sketchy fourth place finish in Iowa, followed by a fifth place finish in New Hampshire, it's not panic button time as yet for Biden supporters, but it is getting close. The big firewall for the former Vice President is probably next week in South Carolina, but a lackluster showing on Saturday in the Nevada Caucuses would not be helpful for his campaign. At the final debate in New Hampshire earlier this month, Biden started off by basically saying he could not win in the Granite State - and then he went out a proved that the following Tuesday. One would expect to look for a different message from Biden, and look for him to be more aggressive tonight, just as he was in the second part of the New Hampshire debate.

+ Michael Bloomberg. History teaches us that in the modern primary campaign era, no one can skip Iowa and New Hampshire, and then win their party's nomination. But that's absolutely what Bloomberg is trying to accomplish. He did nothing in those two early states, where individual voter campaign work is glorified - as Bloomberg instead went for the national campaign, with ads running in Super Tuesday states and beyond. That seems to be paying off right now as the overall field is not wowing the voters, and Bloomberg's numbers are bubbling up both nationally, and in individual states which are voting on March 3 - Super Tuesday. Don't count Bloomberg out, as a string of polls released on Tuesday only seemed to have good news for him. What does Bloomberg do tonight? Maybe he raises this issue which he turned into a digital ad, and uses it to push back against what could be a torrent of criticism.

+ Pete Buttigieg. Most people have probably forgotten this statistic, but Buttigieg is the official leader of the Democratic Party race for President right now, as he is two delegates up on Bernie Sanders after Iowa and New Hampshire. By running neck and neck with Bernie Sanders in both of those states, Buttigieg showed that he deserves to be in the top tier of candidates. But can he translate those good finishes in the first two states into big numbers in Nevada on Saturday? That's not so clear cut of a question and answer. Remember, Buttigieg was taking flak from other Democrats in the New Hampshire debate - because he was perceived as a threat. Now, the focus of all the candidates may be on Bloomberg instead of him.

+ Amy Klobuchar. It was a week today that Klobuchar was the hot, new item emerging from New Hampshire, after her late closing rush which gave her a strong third place finish. But like in New Hampshire, Klobuchar really does not have much of a ground game in Nevada or South Carolina - and she may have to again use this debate to introduce herself to voters who know pretty much nothing about her. Klobuchar is already trying to see if she can push her way into other states, scheduling a visit to Colorado before the Nevada Caucuses. But the extreme disadvantage for Klobuchar on the airwaves vis a vis Bloomberg is something which cannot be ignored.

+ Elizabeth Warren. After her disappointing fourth place finish in New Hampshire, Warren immediately introduced a new message into her stump speech - going after Bloomberg, and the millions of dollars he was pouring into the race for President. "Michael Bloomberg came in on the billionaire plan," Warren said, as the crowd booed at the mention of his name. "Just buy yourself the nomination." One would think that Warren - who has often railed at big money in politics - will be one of the two most aggressive towards Bloomberg, along with Bernie Sanders.  But many thought Warren would be aggressive in the final New Hampshire debate - and it did not happen.  Afterwards, Warren admitted she had probably missed a chance to get more attention.  Watch tonight to see if she changes her game plan.

+ Bernie Sanders. Sanders teed off on Bloomberg before the votes were even cast in the New Hampshire Primary, perhaps sensing more than others - because he has more of a national campaign apparatus - that Bloomberg represents a major threat to the candidates who have picked their way through the individual early states on the calendar. But Sanders also is the strongest candidate to battle Bloomberg right now in the Democratic race, and the size of his crowds in recent days have shown that very clearly. There is still a great reluctance in official Democratic Party circles about Sanders - mainly because he still is not a member of the party. Sanders can certainly box with Bloomberg tonight on stage and feel confident that he will still be in the top tier of candidates when the night is over.

The debate is on NBC from 9 pm - 11 pm ET.