WASHINGTON - Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has qualified for the next Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday night, his first step into the national spotlight with other contenders in the race to oppose Republican President Donald Trump in the November election.
Bloomberg, a wealthy businessman, has spent nearly $400 million of his own money on television advertising and hired hundreds of campaign workers, drawing the ire of Democratic opponents who have accused him of trying to buy the party's nomination. But after joining the race late, he is sitting out the first four party nominating contests, focusing instead on 14 states that vote on March 3 and others that follow, and has missed eight debates the Democrats have staged since mid-2019.
But Bloomberg will be on the debate stage in Las Vegas, Nevada, the western state that is staging party nominating caucuses Saturday, even as thousands of Democrats have already cast early ballots.
Bloomberg will appear alongside five other Democrats looking to oust Trump after a single term in the White House: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Amy Klobuchar or Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
"Mike is looking forward to joining the other Democratic candidates on stage and making the case for why he's the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump and unite the country," campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said in a statement.
How Bloomberg performs is an open question.
He has not participated in a political debate since 2009, the last time he ran for mayor in New York, where he headed the city government from 2002 to 2013. His opponents are sure to target him, though, with pointed attacks.
His Democratic challengers have increasingly assailed his mayoral record, especially his "stop-and-frisk" policy that empowered police to arrest people in crime-ridden communities to get guns off the streets. During his presidential run, Bloomberg has apologized for the policy as misguided in retrospect, saying he did not realize at the time that it would inordinately affect young black and brown men.
He also has come under attack for his frequent profane, sexist and misogynistic comments targeting women staff members at the eponymous business information company that he founded, an enterprise that made him a wealthy man worth a reported $62 billion.
Bloomberg qualified for the debate early Tuesday, finishing second in a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist national poll that showed him with 19% support, trailing only Sanders, who led with 31%. Bloomberg's showing meant he achieved the required 10% support in at least four national polls required by the party to qualify for the debate.
Bloomberg, however, is not contesting Nevada's caucus vote, nor the next primary election in South Carolina on Feb. 29, while turning his attention to votes in the first three weeks of March, including states where he has blanketed the television airwaves with issue-related ads disparaging Trump and concluding with his campaign catch line, "Mike will get it done."
Biden was third in the latest poll at 15% followed by Warren at 12%, Klobuchar with 9% and Buttigieg with 8%.
As Bloomberg has risen in polls after joining the race late, he has become the target of stinging barbs from his fellow Democratic rivals, as well as Trump, who mocked him last week as a "mass of dead energy," and calling him "Mini Mike" for his short stature.
In turn, Bloomberg called Trump "a carnival barking clown," adding, "Where I come from, we measure your height from the neck up."
Sanders, a self-declared democratic socialist, has increasingly attacked Bloomberg, telling supporters at one rally, "Mayor Bloomberg, with all his money, will not create the kind of excitement and energy we need to have the voter turnout we must have to defeat Donald Trump."
Sanders attacked Bloomberg's "racist" policy of "stop-and-frisk" arrests. A 2015 recording surfaced last week of Bloomberg saying the best way to reduce gun violence among young, minority men was to "throw them up against a wall and frisk them."
Bloomberg acknowledged over the weekend, "I've gotten a lot of grief for (stop and frisk) lately, but I defended it for too long, and because I didn't fully understand the unintentional pain it caused young black and brown kids and their families. I should have acted sooner, and I should have stopped it. I didn't, and I apologized for that."
Biden, on NBC's Meet the Press news program Sunday, said, "Sixty billion dollars can buy you a lot of advertising, but it can't erase your record."
On the same show, Klobuchar said: "He just can't hide behind the airwaves. I can't beat him on the airwaves, but I can beat him on the debate stage, and I think people of America deserve that to make a decision."
Bloomberg has also drawn new scrutiny by major U.S. news outlets. Over the weekend, The Washington Post published a lengthy story of Bloomberg's long history of ridicule targeting women who worked at his financial services company.
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told the Fox News Sunday show, "The way Michael Bloomberg treated employees - female employees, who were under his wing, who were relying on him for their livelihoods, for their health benefits, for their 401ks - to have created that kind of culture, that unsafe workplace, to feel like you're being harassed because of your gender, that is problematic. I think you're going to hear more of it."
The Bloomberg campaign denied some of the quotes attributed to him in the newspaper story, while the candidate offered a more general comment on his attitude toward professional women in the workplace.
"I've depended on their leadership, their advice and their contributions," he wrote on Twitter. "As I've demonstrated throughout my career, I will always be a champion for women in the workplace."