Michael Bloomberg: Can He Take the Heat on the Debate Stage?

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  • Michael Bloomberg’s candidacy has been riding a jet stream lately, propelled by Joe Biden’s decline and an aggressive advertising campaign — into which Bloomberg has poured hundreds of millions of his own dollars. But many of the voters considering him have hardly heard Bloomberg speak for himself. That will change tonight when he joins his Democratic rivals on the debate stage for the first time.

  • Beating up on the former New York mayor — for his policy record, for his status as a self-funding billionaire, for only recently having become a Democrat — is the other candidates’ new favorite team sport. The big question tonight is this: When those attacks come at him in real time, how will Bloomberg fight back?

  • Bloomberg has not been in a televised debate in over 10 years, and he has a history of offering seemingly flat-footed and stubborn responses to critical questions. His campaign is the most well-funded and robust of any Democrat’s in the race — but onstage, all that will matter is how convincingly he makes his case.

  • Biden, whose own debate performances have mostly failed to inspire confidence, sounded eager last week in New Hampshire to take on Bloomberg. “Let’s get into the debates,” he said. “We got a lot to talk about.”

  • While his opponents are most likely to press him on his record, Bloomberg will have a slate of new policy proposals to promote. On Tuesday, he rolled out a package of financial regulations that would restore Obama-era rules jettisoned by President Trump, and would increase the capital requirements for large banks. Bloomberg also proposed setting up a new team within the Justice Department to prosecute individuals — not just institutions — for regulatory infractions. This could open the door to sending financial executives to jail for violations, something former President Barack Obama was reluctant to do, despite the fact that public opinion generally favored the prosecution of bankers after the 2008 financial crisis.

  • Bloomberg won’t be competing in Nevada’s caucuses on Saturday, or in the South Carolina primary the next week. So those contests will present a seemingly solid last chance for his moderate rivals to establish some momentum before he joins the fray on Super Tuesday, March 3. But polling data looks grim for those candidates — particularly Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, who enjoyed surprisingly strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. They are both expected to take a hit in Nevada, where their apparent weakness among voters of color may prove consequential, and where a recent poll found them each at 10 percent. Separate polls of Virginia and New Jersey, both released on Tuesday, showed Buttigieg and Klobuchar far below the top tier.

  • Two new polls of Latino caucusgoers in Nevada offer slightly conflicting views of the presidential race. A poll by Univision News and the Latino Community Foundation showed Sanders ahead of Biden by 11 points among Nevada’s Latino Democratic caucusgoers, with 33 percent of the vote. But a separate Telemundo/Mason-Dixon poll gave Biden more of a fighting chance: It showed him with 34 percent of Latino Democrats, to Sanders’s 31 percent. Hispanic people are expected to make up roughly a quarter of the vote in Saturday’s caucuses.

  • This is only the third time Nevada has held a competitive Democratic caucus since 2008, when it moved up to No. 3 on the nominating calendar — giving it a far more influential role in the process. This year’s field is by far the most crowded that the state has seen in those years, adding a level of complexity to what was already a heterogenous state, whose caucusing system does not make things any simpler.

Senator Amy Klobuchar’s campaign bus was parked in a lot near the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas on Monday.

Over 1,000 former Justice Department officials recently signed a letter calling on William Barr, the attorney general, to resign. Barr himself said in a recent interview that Trump should stop tweeting about his legal opinions.

But Trump seems unlikely to stop meddling in judicial affairs.

In comments to reporters on Tuesday, he lit into the judge presiding over the trial of his longtime friend Roger Stone. That was the very case Barr had cautioned Trump against interfering with, saying it made Barr’s job harder. But on Tuesday, Trump rejected the premise. “Everybody has the right to speak their mind,” he said. “Social media for me has been very important because it gives me a voice. Because I don’t get that voice in the press.”

Also on Tuesday, Trump pardoned seven people, including the so-called junk bond king Michael Milken and a number of other people convicted of white-collar crimes. He commuted the sentences of four more — one of whom was Rod Blagojevich, the disgraced former Democratic governor of Illinois.

Our White House correspondent Maggie Haberman, who covered the story, offered this interpretation of Trump’s pardons and commutations:

Trump’s decision to commute the sentence of Rod Blagojevich and to pardon Bernard Kerik and Michael Milken came after he was lobbied by friends and allies of those men. It could prove difficult for Mr. Trump to argue he is draining the swamp, as he puts it, while consistently using his pardon power to help the well-connected or famous.

Klobuchar has been scrambling to scale up her campaign after a surprise third-place finish in New Hampshire vaulted her into the top-tier conversation. And though she has raised $12 million, since her breakout debate performance less than two weeks ago, her campaign said, mounting a broadcast ad campaign to compete with better-funded rivals like Sanders and Buttigieg has been a tall task.

But now Klobuchar is getting some air support from a new super PAC: Kitchen Table Conversations.

The group, founded by Democratic operatives from Minnesota, has already placed roughly $420,000 worth of ads in Nevada and South Carolina, according to Advertising Analytics, and has released an ad that will air in each state.

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