The Democratic presidential contenders debating in New Hampshire on Friday night didn’t share a stage with fellow candidate Michael Bloomberg. But they heard his footsteps. Several candidates accused the billionaire former New York City mayor of trying to purchase the Democratic nomination with his vast wealth, 12 days before he will likely join them in Nevada for the next debate.
Asked by moderator George Stephanopoulos why she would be better suited than Bloomberg to take on Donald Trump, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said bluntly “Look, I don’t think anyone ought to be able to buy their way into a nomination, or to be president of the United States.”
“I just simply think people don’t look at the guy in the White House and say, ‘Can we get someone richer?’” said Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
And Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) sarcastically noted that “There are millions of people who can desire to run for office. But I guess if you’re worth $60 billion, and you can spend several hundred million dollars on commercials, you have a slight advantage.”
“That is nonsense,” he continued.
Bloomberg looks likely to qualify for the Nevada debate based on his polling strength — he is in fourth place in several national Democratic primary polls. He was precluded from prior debates because of a DNC donor threshold requirement. Bloomberg does not accept donations, and the astonishing $200.4 million he raised in the last quarter came almost entirely from his own pocket.
When the DNC eliminated that donor requirement last week, several candidates cried foul over a rule change benefiting a billionaire candidate — but their sharp attacks on Friday showed how much they might actually relish beating up on one of the richest men in the country in an age of increasing economic populism within the Democratic party.
Bloomberg’s presence will also stir up the broader issue of money in politics during the debates, and both Sanders and Warren made clear Friday they won’t use that opportunity to just attack Bloomberg. “Unlike some of the folks up here, I don’t have 40 billionaires — Pete — contributing to my campaign,” said Sanders, as he stared at Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Warren noted that “Everyone on this stage except Amy and me is either a billionaire, or is receiving help from PACs that can do unlimited spending ... I think the way we build a democracy going forward is not billionaires reaching in their own pockets, or people sucking up to billionaires.”
Alongside the bravado and attacks, Bloomberg’s looming presence also produced a clear anxiety about the massive resources he brings into the race. Each of the three candidates who responded to Stephanopoulos’ question worked their campaign website into their answer, and pleaded for a donation.