And while Ms. Warren’s opening lines had been carefully rehearsed, the most searing exchange of the night was improvised, according to her aides. Ms. Warren pressed Mr. Bloomberg about the nondisclosure agreements that female former employees at his companies had signed, so voters could know “what’s lurking out there,” flustering the former mayor into perhaps his worst moments onstage. He visibly rolled his eyes as she summed up his defense as “I’ve been nice to some women.”
The question emerging from her strong performance was whether it was both too late for Ms. Warren’s campaign in Nevada, where early voting had wrapped up a day earlier with 75,000 votes already cast, and for Ms. Warren in general.
”I think Nevadans had been feeling squishy about her candidacy,” said Maria Urbina, political director for Indivisible and former staff member for Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who attended the debate. “But after the debate they left feeling grounded and ready to caucus for her.”
Everyone she had spoken to afterward agreed: “Warren crushed it.”
The debate in New Hampshire was a turning point for Ms. Warren’s team. She was flat, while Senator Amy Klobuchar soared, and the New Hampshire results reflected the performances, with Ms. Klobuchar surging past Ms. Warren into third place.
Convinced that she needed to be a central figure in the Nevada debate, the campaign’s brain trust had made the decision to focus their fire on Mr. Bloomberg in Nevada even before he qualified for the debate, which came only the day before. A multibillionaire plunging unprecedented sums of money into television ads proved the perfect foil for Ms. Warren, a populist who has centered her platform on the corrosive and corrupting role of money on American politics.
“Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another,” as Ms. Warren said in her opening statement, trying to dismantle the aura of electability that Mr. Bloomberg had created for himself with his spending.
Ms. Warren had all but telegraphed her strategy of using Mr. Bloomberg as a stand-in for President Trump. In a tweet on Tuesday, she previewed how “primary voters curious about how each candidate will take on Donald Trump can get a live demonstration of how we each take on an egomaniac billionaire.”