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Mike Bloomberg prepares for debate in Nevada, anticipating a fight

Bloomberg qualifies for Nevada debate

Mike Bloomberg will be making his debut on the Democratic debate stage in Nevada on Wednesday, where he's expecting to be attacked by his competitors on a range of issues, including his massive wealth. Democrats have already accused him of buying his podium on the stage and even the party's nomination.

A poll released Tuesday morning clinched Bloomberg's qualification for the debate. He has been steadily rising in public opinion, even though he skipped the first contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, and is also not on the ballot in Nevada or South Carolina, the next two races. Bloomberg, a multi-billionaire, has been pouring money into advertising for his campaign, with a heavy focus on delegate-rich Super Tuesday states. This has allowed him to gain name recognition and present his best case to the public with inescapable ads, but Wednesday's debate will mark the first time that he will have to deflect attacks from his opponents in real time.

Bloomberg has combated a series of controversies since launching his campaign, including the stop-and-frisk policy implemented during his tenure as mayor, previous crass comments about women and an alleged culture of sexual harassment at his company. Bloomberg has apologized for stop-and-frisk and attempted to reframe his history on criminal justice, releasing three plans on criminal justice reform Tuesday morning. He's touted endorsements from key black lawmakers, including Congressional Black Caucus members like Representative Lucy McBath, a freshman who ran on a platform of supporting gun control reform.

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Hank Sheinkopf, a New York Democratic operative who has previously worked with Bloomberg but is unaffiliated in the primary, said that Bloomberg's opponents on the debate stage will "try to slow down his momentum any way they can."

"You name it, they'll throw it at him," Sheinkopf said.

Campaign advisers and operatives who have worked with Bloomberg in the past are playing the roles of other candidates in preparations for the former New York City mayor, who last participated in a political debate during his 2009 mayoral campaign. According to the campaign, Marc LaVorgna is playing former South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg, Marcia Hale is playing Senator Amy Klobuchar, Howard Wolfson is playing Senator Bernie Sanders, Julie Wood is playing Senator Elizabeth Warren and Bradley Tusk is running the process.

Bloomberg will have to make his points quickly, within the limited time frame of a debate question, while fending off attacks by his competitors, who have already been targeting him for criticism over the use of his wealth in the primary process. There's no indication that Bloomberg will be apologetic about his wealth, however, since it has enabled him to fund significant campaigns on gun control and climate change, and help propel several Democrats to victory in the House. Sanders and Warren in particular have made taxing the ultra wealthy key planks of their campaigns, a means of funding the government programs they would implement if elected.

Bloomberg's campaign sees both advantages and disadvantages to its candidate's likely status as the center of attention. If he is a frequent target of all other candidates, that could cement him as a front-runner in the minds of voters. However, the campaign is also wary of seeing Bloomberg fending off attacks all night.

"I think he's got a lot of imperatives going into tomorrow night. It will be his first time on the national debate stage, so he will have to make a positive first impression on the millions of people who don't know a lot about him," said Robert Barnett, a Washington attorney who has worked on ten presidential campaigns since 1976. "He'll have to respond to the many criticisms swirling around him in a thoughtful way and a thorough way and not get angry and not be evasive."

"With all that on his plate, he will also have to decide whether to cross-attack, and not just defend but go on the offensive against the others on the stage," Barnett continued. "You've got all those things that will be in his mission statement, and he will have to do all of that in the context of a very lively and loose format which is alien to him."

Sheinkopf expressed confidence that Bloomberg will stay calm during the debate.

"You're not going to see Mike Bloomberg lose his cool and lose his poise," Sheinkopf said.

Candidates to face off in Las Vegas Democratic debate

Bloomberg's campaign has already tussled with that of Sanders, perhaps indicating conflict which will come to a head on stage Wednesday evening. Bloomberg's campaign released an ad over the weekend slamming Sanders supporters who have threatened to "blacklist" Bloomberg staffers and supporters. Bloomberg's campaign manager, Kevin Sheekey, indicated with a tweet on Tuesday that there is "damaging" and possibly "disqualifying" opposition research on Sanders.

Bloomberg has also repeatedly emphasized the need for "evolution" instead of Sanders' call for "revolution." Sanders, meanwhile, has criticized the rule change which allowed Bloomberg to qualify for the debate, as the qualifications no longer include a unique-donor threshold.

"I guess if you're worth $60 billion, you can change the rules. I think that is very, very unfortunate," Sanders said Friday on "CBS This Morning."

However, Bloomberg, like Biden, will focus mainly on the issue of electability when confronting Sanders. Fundamentally, Bloomberg believes that he can make the better case for being able to defeat President Trump than Sanders. If the top issue for voters is beating Mr. Trump in the election, the Bloomberg campaign believes this will work well for the candidate on the stage tomorrow night and in the primaries going forward.

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