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Democratic rivals sharpen attacks as Bloomberg rises

White House hopefuls are unloading on Mike Bloomberg in an effort to draw him into the fray amid uncertainty over whether the former New York City mayor will be on the Democratic debate stage next week in Nevada.

At town hall events, on social media and at meetings with donors, Bloomberg’s 2020 rivals are sharpening their attacks against him, underscoring his growing strength in the fluid primary race.

Bloomberg has assembled a fearsome campaign apparatus that includes hundreds of the Democratic Party’s top operatives and strategists. He’s plowed more than $350 million into a months-long national advertising campaign that has lifted him in the polls.

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He has also been on an apology tour to address several racially charged controversies from his time as mayor of New York City. But he’s received cover from black leaders on Capitol Hill and new polls show him cutting into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida Supreme Court reinstates ban on curbside voting in Alabama MORE’s support among black voters. 

Bloomberg’s rivals are eager to get their first crack at him the national stage on Wednesday in Nevada — one of the final four debates of the primary season. 

But there’s no guarantee that Bloomberg will qualify and there are growing fears among his rivals that he’ll continue running a parallel general election campaign, gliding above it all, while the rest of the Democratic hopefuls fight among themselves.

“They have to now start to actually get on the debate stage and start to defend their records,” Biden said of Bloomberg at a Thursday night at a fundraiser in New York City.

So far five candidates have made the debate in Las Vegas on Feb. 19: Biden, Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden endorses Texas Democratic House candidate Julie Oliver Ocasio-Cortez rolls out Twitch channel to urge voting Calls grow for Democrats to ramp up spending in Texas MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden endorses Texas Democratic House candidate Julie Oliver Democratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Obama endorses Espy in Mississippi Senate race MORE (D-Mass.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDurbin signals he isn't interested in chairing Judiciary Committee Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing MORE (D-Minn.) and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegLGBTQ voters must show up at the polls, or risk losing progress Buttigieg says it's time to 'turn the page' on Trump administration Sunday shows preview: Coronavirus cases surge in the Midwest; Trump hits campaign trail after COVID-19 MORE.  

If Bloomberg hits 10 percent support in one more sanctioned national poll released by Feb. 18, he’ll qualify for Wednesday’s debate.

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Bloomberg has said he wants to debate but the campaign did not respond to a question about whether he’d accept an invitation to the Las Vegas forum if he qualifies.

There is some frustration on the left that the Democratic National Committee dropped the fundraising criteria for the debates, paving the way for Bloomberg, a self-funder, to qualify.

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Obama endorses Espy in Mississippi Senate race Durbin signals he isn't interested in chairing Judiciary Committee MORE (D-N.J.) and former San Antonio, Texas, Mayor Julián Castro were casualties of the stringent early debate requirements before ending their presidential campaigns.

Sanders on Friday said it was unacceptable that a billionaire should be able to buy his way on stage when the candidates of color were excluded. 

“That is what being a multi-billionaire is about,” Sanders said on CBS This Morning. “Some very good friends of mine who are competing in the Democratic nomination, people like Cory Booker of New Jersey ... Julián Castro, work really, really hard. Nobody changed the rules to get them into the debate. But I guess if you're worth $60 billion, you can change the rules. I think that is very, very unfortunate."

But for the most part, the Democratic field is champing at the bit to get a shot at Bloomberg.

Sanders’s campaign has led the way in demanding that Bloomberg be held to account for how his stop-and-frisk policy resulted in the harassment and detainment of large numbers of racial minorities in New York City when he was mayor.

That policy received new scrutiny this week after audio resurfaced of Bloomberg advocating for racial profiling in 2016, saying that violent criminals were usually made up of “male, minorities, 16 to 25.”

“He should not be running now that that has come up,” said Nina Turner, national co-chairwoman for the Sanders campaign. "I think he should drop out of the race.”

Bloomberg apologized for the policy in front of a predominantly black audience in Houston on Thursday night, saying the policy stemmed from a desire to curb violent crime and that he didn’t understand at the time the “unintended pain it was causing to young black and brown families and their kids.”

“I’ve spent a lot of time speaking with black leaders and community members and listening to their stories,” Bloomberg said. “I heard their pain, their confusion, and their anger, and I’ve learned from them, and I’ve grown from them.”

There is no evidence that the racial controversies have damaged Bloomberg.

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New polls show Bloomberg’s national rise has been in part due to support from black voters, who are giving him a look in the aftermath of Biden’s distant showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The Bloomberg campaign this week rolled out new endorsements from a trio of Congressional Black Caucus members — Reps. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksCedric Richmond's next move: 'Sky's the limit' if Biden wins Bottom line Democrats go big on diversity with new House recruits MORE (D-N.Y.), Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathThis week: House returns for pre-election sprint House Democrats' campaign arm reserves .6M in ads in competitive districts Black Lives Matter movement to play elevated role at convention MORE (D-Ga.), and Del. Stacey PlaskettStacey PlaskettStand-alone bill to provide relief for airlines blocked on House floor DOJ rejects statehood for Puerto Rico — so do Puerto Ricans Bottom line MORE of the Virgin Islands.

House Majority Whip Rep. Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos ClyburnCedric Richmond's next move: 'Sky's the limit' if Biden wins Candymakers meet virtually with lawmakers for annual fly-in, discuss Halloween safety OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Top general negative for coronavirus, Pentagon chief to get tested after Trump result l Top House lawmakers launch investigation into Pentagon redirecting COVID-19 funds MORE (D-S.C.), who has not endorsed yet, said he thinks Bloomberg will “have one heck of a challenge trying to overcome” stop and frisk.

But he said that former Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin, a prominent African American national co-chairman of Bloomberg’s campaign, has set him at ease about Bloomberg’s intentions and how he’d govern going forward.

“I know, love and respect Steve Benjamin, and he’s told me that he’s had conversations with Bloomberg that satisfies him. That he’s regretful of the policy. That he was a bit flippant in describing it at times and he’s apologized for it,” Clyburn said Friday on MSNBC. “And Steve Benjamin says he’s comfortable with that apology and I’ve always been very comfortable with Steve Benjamin.”

But Bloomberg is facing a second racial controversy over his past remarks that the 2008 financial crisis was due in part to banks loosening their credit standards because they were under pressure from Congress to give loans to poor people.

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He also implied that “red lining,” a banned practice wherein banks would refuse to lend to neighborhoods with high numbers of racial minorities, was effective in ensuring banks did not take on bad loans.

Warren, who rose to power as a fierce consumer financial advocate, hammered Bloomberg at a campaign event in Virginia on Thursday night, saying those remarks should be disqualifying.

Michael BloombergMichael BloombergEverytown hits GOP on gun safety in closing .5M battleground ad barrage A closing argument: Why voters cannot trust Trump on healthcare Biden campaign swamps Trump on TV airwaves MORE is saying in effect that the 2008 financial crash was caused because the banks weren’t permitted to discriminate against black and brown people,” Warren said. “I want to be clear about this — that crisis would not have been averted if the banks had been able to be bigger racists and anyone who thinks that should not be the leader of our party.”

But no one has been able to confront Bloomberg on the debate stage yet.

Instead, Bloomberg has been content to go one on one with President TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE, who has attacked the former New York City mayor’s height and said he’ll need to stand on a box if he gets on the debate stage.

“I’m not afraid of Donald Trump and that’s why he keeps tweeting about me,” Bloomberg said over Twitter. “The ways you can tell he’s worried is if he mentions you. He’s a narcissist and he understands name is everything and if you really want to annoy him say ‘that person,’ don’t say Donald Trump.”