RENO, Nev. (AP) — With the Nevada caucuses less than a week away, Democratic presidential candidates campaigning Sunday were fixated on a rival who wasn't contesting the state.
Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar all targeted billionaire Mike Bloomberg, accusing him of buying his way into the election and making clear they were eager to take him on in a debate.
“He thinks he can buy this election,” Sanders said of the former New York mayor at a rally in Reno. “Well, I’ve got news for Mr. Bloomberg — the American people are sick and tired of billionaires buying elections!”
Their attacks are a sign of how seriously the field is starting to take Bloomberg as he gains traction in the race and is on the cusp of qualifying for Wednesday's Democratic debate in Las Vegas. Bloomberg has bypassed the traditional early voting states including Nevada, focusing instead on the 14 states that vote in the Super Tuesday primary on March 3. He has spent more than $417 million of his own multibillion-dollar fortune on advertising nationwide, an unprecedented sum for any candidate in a primary.
The focus on Bloomberg comes amid anxiety among many establishment-aligned Democrats over the early strength of Sanders, who won last week's New Hampshire primary and essentially tied for first place in Iowa with Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Sanders is hoping to notch a victory in Nevada on Saturday as moderates struggle to unite behind a candidate who could serve as a counter to the Vermont senator, who has long identified as a democratic socialist.
The hundreds of millions of dollars that Bloomberg has pumped into the Super Tuesday states has only heightened the sense of uncertainty surrounding the Democratic race.
Klobuchar, speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” accused Bloomberg of avoiding scrutiny by blanketing the airwaves and sidestepping debates or tough televised interviews.
“I think he cannot hide behind the airwaves and the money," she said. “I think he has to come on the shows. And I personally think he should be on the debate stage.”
Klobuchar said she's raised $12 million since her better-than-expected finish in third place in New Hampshire. She's maintained her campaign through a series of strong debate performances and argued that Bloomberg being on stage with his rivals would level the playing field.
“I’m never going to beat him on the airwaves, but I can beat him on the debate stage,” she said.
Biden, speaking on NBC's “Meet the Press,” suggested that Bloomberg will face increased scrutiny as the race continues, pointing to his record on issues relating to race.
“$60 billion can buy you a lot of advertising, but it can't erase your record,” he said.
Biden knocked Bloomberg’s past support of stop-and-frisk policing policies and his comments suggesting cracking down on racist mortgage lending practices contributed to the financial crisis, as well as his 2008 refusal to endorse Barack Obama for president. Bloomberg has been airing ads that tie him closely to Obama on issues like gun control and climate change.
At Sanders’ rally, the crowd cheered as the Vermont senator joked that Bloomberg is “struggling, he’s down to his last $60 billion" and derided him for skipping the early primary states. But Sanders then broadened his attacks to encompass Biden and Buttigieg, who have been raising millions from high-dollar events.
“It is not just Donald Trump. It is not just Mike Bloomberg," he said. “We’ve got candidates who are running for the Democratic nomination, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden — nice guys, I don’t mean to criticize them. But they are reaching out, both of them have received campaign contributions from more than 40 billionaires."