Rival Democrats battling for the Nevada caucuses later this week seized on Michael Bloomberg’s Republican past and comments about policing, women and race to argue he has no place in the crowded presidential primary field.
Bloomberg has seen his standing in the polls spike in recent weeks. His rise was aided by more than $400 million in self-funded advertising and millions more on staffing, putting him in the sights of the rest of the field.
Bernie Sanders, who finished in the top two in Iowa, won the New Hampshire primary and is leading in California, made Bloomberg the theme of a speech to the Clark County Democrats in Las Vegas.
Repeating the phrase, “We will not beat Donald Trump with,” Sanders ticked off the issues that have dogged Bloomberg for a week: a “racist” policy like stop-and-frisk that “caused communities of color to live in fear,” his past opposition to raising the minimum wage and that he “blamed the end of racist policies such as redlining for the financial crisis.”
“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 said.
As a presidential candidate, Bloomberg supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)
The Democrats are campaigning and raising money in advance of the Nevada caucuses on Saturday and the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29. Bloomberg first appears on ballots on March 3, Super Tuesday, when 14 states vote, but as his poll numbers rise, so has media and opposition scrutiny.
Joe Biden praised Bloomberg’s record on issues like gun control, calling him a “real ally” of President Barack Obama on that issue. But Obama’s former vice president expressed resentment at Bloomberg’s efforts to cozy up to his ex-boss in hindsight.
“He wouldn’t endorse him,” Biden said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “All of a sudden he’s his best buddy.”
Bloomberg has been running advertisements that show Obama praising him for his leadership as mayor of New York. But he wasn’t always a big Obama supporter. As a Republican, he endorsed George W. Bush for re-election in 2004, endorsed no one when Obama first ran against John McCain in 2008 and only endorsed Obama for re-election in 2012.
Biden slammed Bloomberg’s record on policing in New York and other issues important to African American voters, a crucial demographic for the Democratic nomination — and especially for Biden, who has lost black support as Bloomberg’s support among blacks has picked up.
“You take a look at the stop-and-frisk proposals. You take a look at his ideas on redlining he’s talking about. You take a look at what he’s done relative to the African American community,” Biden said.
Audio surfaced last week of Bloomberg defending his “stop-and-frisk” policy as New York mayor, which disproportionately affected men of color and was struck down by a federal court in 2013. In the 2015 audio of a speech at the Aspen Institute, Bloomberg said the best way to reduce gun violence among young, minority men was to “throw them up against a wall and frisk them.”
Comments also surfaced of Bloomberg suggesting that the end of redlining, a practice in which banks refused mortgages to minorities, contributed to the 2008 financial crisis.
Bloomberg has repeatedly apologized for backing stop-and-frisk and did so again on Saturday at campaign stops a craft brewery in Richmond, Virginia, and in a speech at the Virginia Democratic party gala.
“I’ve gotten a lot of grief for it 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,” Bloomberg said. “I should have acted sooner, and I should have stopped it. I didn’t, and I apologized for that.”
Amy Klobuchar, who is courting the same moderate voters as Bloomberg, also went after him. She said he has avoided the scrutiny the other Democratic presidential candidates have faced by campaigning largely through his ubiquitous television ads but not taking tough questions from voters and the media.
“He just can’t hide behind the airwaves,” she said on “Meet the Press.” “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 did not qualify for the first seven Democratic debates because he did not take campaign contributions. But the DNC made an expected change in late January to eliminate the fund-raising requirement and replacing it with a requirement to earn at least one delegate or rank 10% or higher in four national qualifying polls.
He needs only one more national poll to qualify for a debate in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
Bloomberg has focused on Super Tuesday states like Virginia. California and Texas are the big delegate prizes that day.
For her part, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway criticized Bloomberg as well, referring to several sexual harassment lawsuits, all settled, against Bloomberg and his company and warned they would come up again. Her attack signals that the Trump campaign will deflect the president’s own sexual harassment allegations and turn them on Bloomberg.
“The way Michael Bloomberg treated employee, 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,” she told Fox News Sunday. “I think you’re going to hear more of it.”
Bloomberg, in response to a Washington Post story about the allegations, tweeted on Saturday that he “would not be where I am today without the talented women around me” and that “as I’ve demonstrated throughout my career, I will always be a champion for women in the workplace.”
— With assistance by Magan Crane
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