Warren debate performance gives her a lift

The Democratic presidential candidates ganged up on debate newcomer Michael Bloomberg on Wednesday night, but none more so than Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who desperately needed a spark for her campaign.

After a disappointing fourth-place finish in New Hampshire near her home turf, Warren came out fast and kept charging during the two-hour debate on NBC. Her campaign claims she raised $7 million online in the first hour of the debate, her best fundraising hour of the campaign.

“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against — a billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians,’” Warren said. “And, no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump; I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”

She also made it clear that supporting Bloomberg, a billionaire and the former mayor of New York City, would be a big mistake. “Look, I’ll support whoever the Democratic nominee is, but understand this: Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.”

As the Globe‘s Renée Graham put it, “Warren went after Bloomberg with such ferocity and precision that the former mayor looked as if he’d just been stopped, thrown up against a wall, and frisked outside his tony New York townhouse.”

Warren led the pack in speaking for almost 17 minutes of the two-hour debate, with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar close behind. But unlike Warren, Klobuchar lacked a breakthrough moment (or, in Warren’s case, a series of them).

At one point, Bloomberg said his company, Bloomberg LP, had no tolerance for “the kind of behavior the #MeToo movement has exposed.” But he got a reality check from Warren when she noted the mayor had women sign non-disclosure agreements for sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Saying the women were being “muzzled,” Warren called on Bloomberg to release them from those contracts. “None of them accuse me of doing anything,” Bloomberg said to boos, “other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told.” Some estimates say there are around 64 women bound by those agreements, which date back several decades.

The other person on stage sounding the call against the wealthy — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — didn’t miss much, even if he wasn’t the night’s shining star. First off, he probably won’t lose many votes to Warren as long as her focus remains on centrists. Second, he remains the leader in the polls, coming in almost 9 percentage points higher than the second-place contestants Joe Biden and Bloomberg.

Bloomberg was on the defense throughout the Las Vegas debate, having to explain and apologize for stringent policing policies during his tenure as New York’s mayor that disproportionately impacted black and brown locals. Candidates also attacked him for switching parties so often, and his recent funding of Republican candidates.

Whether the infectious energy Warren displayed will translate to votes remains to be seen. On Twitter, she’s got memes, she’s got hashtags, she’s got the “trending,” something that was definitely not happening a week ago, when she was barely in the conversation.

Warren’s polling at 14 percent nationally, according to yesterday’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. That’s statistically tied with Biden, Bloomberg, and former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Ahead of Saturday’s Nevada caucuses, Sanders leads with 35 percent, according to pollster Data for Progress, with Warren, Buttigieg, and Biden at 16, 15, and 14 percent. Considering that the two men in that clump had a lackluster performance on Wednesday night, it could be fair to say Warren has a shot to come in second in Nevada, and widen her margin of support.

But beware the specter of Bloomberg. With $64 billion to his name, and a bulging (and growing) staff paid big bucks, he could easily take this, even with the drama tied to his name and his uneven performance on Wednesday night.

Bloomberg made some attempts to hold off Sanders. In one heated exchange that got some applause, Bloomberg accused Sanders of being the “best-known socialist in the country who happens to be a millionaire with three houses.” Sanders responded that he has a home in Vermont, a second in DC, and a small summer place like lots of other Vermonters.

President Trump was watching, and wasn’t impressed with Bloomberg. “Mini Mike Bloomberg’s debate performance tonight was perhaps the worst in the history of debates, and there have been some really bad ones,” Trump tweeted.




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