RENO, Nev. – With the Nevada caucuses less than a week away, Democratic presidential candidates campaigning were fixated on a rival who wasn't contesting the state.
Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg all went after billionaire Mike Bloomberg and made clear they were eager to take him on in a debate.
“He thinks he can buy this election,” Sanders told a Carson City rally Sunday. “Well, I’ve got news for Mr. Bloomberg — the American people are sick and tired of billionaires buying elections!”
Bloomberg hit back Monday with a video mashup posted to Twitter of aggressive and threatening comments made by people who appear to be Sanders supporters, juxtaposed with Sanders calling for “civil discourse.”
“We need to unite to defeat Trump in November," the former New York mayor tweeted. “This type of ‘energy’ is not going to get us there.”
Their attacks are a sign of how seriously the field is starting to take Bloomberg as he gains 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 with many establishment-aligned Democrats anxious about 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.