Mike Bloomberg, Bernie Sanders under attack at Democrats’ Nevada debate

Democratic presidential candidates, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, left, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., talk before a Democratic presidential primary debate Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, in Las Vegas, hosted by NBC News and MSNBC. (AP Photo/John Locher)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — From the opening bell, Democrats unleashed an aggressive verbal assault on New York billionaire Mike Bloomberg and raised new questions about Bernie Sanders’ take-no-prisoners politics in Wednesday night’s high-stakes debate in Las Vegas. The former New York City mayor was forced to defend his divisive record on race, gender and Wall Street for the first time onstage.

Bloomberg, a former Republican, was making his debate debut as one of the Democrats’ strongest six White House hopefuls — as determined by national polls — while the party’s moderate wing struggles to unify behind an alternative to polarizing progressive Sanders.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren unleashed to most aggressive attack early, calling Bloomberg “a billionaire who calls people fat broads and horse-faced lesbians.”

She wasn’t alone.

Sanders lashed out at Bloomberg’s policing policies as New York City mayor that he said targeted “African-American and Latinos in an outrageous way.”

And former Vice President Joe Biden charged that Bloomberg’s “stop-and-frisk” policy ended up “throwing 5 million black men up against the wall.”

Bloomberg defended himself on all counts and took a shot at Sanders’ electability: “I don’t think there’s any chance of the senator beating Donald Trump.”

It was a raucous affair just three days before Nevada voters decide the third contest of the Democratic Party’s turbulent 2020 primary season. Bloomberg won’t be on the ballot Saturday, yet he faced intense scrutiny on national television for the first time, having faced relatively little in his surprisingly swift rise from nonpartisan megadonor to top-tier contender.

With just six candidates in the debate, the smallest group to date in a field that initially featured 20 on stage, the stakes were high for everyone.

Longtime establishment favorite Joe Biden, the former Obama vice president, is fighting to breathe new life into his flailing campaign, which enters the night at the bottom of a moderate muddle behind former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Sanders, a Vermont senator, has emerged as the progressive wing’s preference after two contests as Massachusetts Sen. Warren struggles to regain energy for her campaign.

Buttigieg assailed both Bloomberg and Sanders, warning that one threatened to “burn down” the Democratic Party and the other was trying to buy it.

He called them “the two most polarizing figures on this stage.”

Republished with the Permission of the Associated Press.