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Bloomberg Qualifies For His 1st Democratic Presidential Debate In Nevada


Tomorrow night is the ninth Democratic presidential debate, and it is the first for billionaire Michael Bloomberg. The former New York City mayor qualified today after a new poll released by NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist put him in double digits nationally. Even before he qualified, Bloomberg had drawn the focus and fire of several of his fellow Democratic candidates. NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid is here in the studio to discuss Bloomberg's standing in the race.

Hi, Asma.


SHAPIRO: First, tell us more about how he made this debate stage in Nevada.

KHALID: So there used to be both a polling threshold and a donor threshold in order to make these debates. Bloomberg, of course, self-funds his campaign, so he's not accepting any donations and, therefore, could never meet that donor threshold. But the Democratic National Committee changed the rules ahead of this debate. They dropped that donor requirement. So Bloomberg just needed the poll numbers, and with our new poll out this morning, he qualified.

You know, there has been some sort of criticism, I will say, from some candidates about this. Bernie Sanders criticized the DNC for changing the rules, calling it a, quote, "rigged system." But some other candidates like Amy Klobuchar have said that, you know, Bloomberg needs to be on stage because otherwise, he's just spending hundreds of millions of dollars on ads without any pushback, without any scrutiny from anyone.

SHAPIRO: Interesting; and that's not the only criticism that Sanders has leveled at Bloomberg. We should say our new poll found Sanders ahead of Bloomberg by 12 points. And these two 78-year-olds have been sniping back and forth a lot recently. What are they saying?

KHALID: So Sanders, you know, has certainly made, we should point out, billionaires and wealth inequality a key component of his race and his message for years. So running against a billionaire like Bloomberg is sort of a dream candidate...

SHAPIRO: They're made for each other.

KHALID: ...A dream rival for - yeah, exactly. And this weekend, Sanders escalated his attacks on Bloomberg, saying that he would not drive the turnout needed to defeat President Trump. He also, you know, criticized Bloomberg for his opposition to raising the minimum wage and his support for a policy known as stop and frisk while he was the mayor there in New York City. And that's a policy that disproportionately targeted minorities.

Bloomberg's team, you know, decried these attacks. They also called out the behavior of so-called Bernie bros for bullying people online. But we should point out other candidates have chimed in on Bloomberg's candidacy. You know, Joe Biden has said that he also has issues with sort of Bloomberg's record, specifically around, you know, minorities and policing. Elizabeth Warren has criticized Bloomberg for comments that he made in 2008 about redlining, which is a discriminatory lending practice, you know, practiced by some banks.

SHAPIRO: So beyond police practices and housing practices, there've just been a lot of stories recently about Bloomberg's past views or comments, including comments toward women, pregnant women who worked for him. What do all of these revelations or resurfaced stories tell us about Bloomberg's candidacy right now?

KHALID: Well, it tells us certainly that he's seen as a more viable threat to his opponents, right? I mean, he's getting that scrutiny because he's seen as a major player in the polling now, specifically with Super Tuesday approaching. And we should remember that Bloomberg has not been competing in the first four early voting states. You know, on the issues themselves, it underscores that Bloomberg was a former Republican. And, you know, he has begun to significantly fund some liberal causes like gun control or climate change mitigation. But in very recent years, he did hold some views that were sort of out of step with the culture of the current Democratic Party.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, look ahead to the debate tomorrow night. It looks like it might be feisty with Bloomberg on the stage for the first time in this state. Nevada is having caucuses on Saturday where people are already early voting.

KHALID: Yes, exactly, and he's not actually competing in Nevada. You know, Ari, what's most striking to me is that this is a Democratic debate but one in which the two candidates who are getting the most attention right now are not, in fact, longtime Democrats. You know, you've got Bernie Sanders...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Right, Bloomberg and Sanders, yeah.

KHALID: Exactly - who's been an independent for years, and Michael Bloomberg, who was a Republican for years. And to me, it is fascinating that you have these outsiders who are driving the conversation in the Democratic Party right now.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Asma Khalid, thanks a lot.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
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