Everything you need to know about tonight’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas


You know what they say, what happens in Las Vegas … will be broadcast and live-streamed around the world. Democrats will hold their ninth presidential primary debate Wednesday and this time the stage will have a fresh face.

Billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg, the former three-term mayor of New York City, qualified for his first debate after he climbed in polls and the Democratic National Committee decided to drop its grassroots fundraising threshold.

That gives the five other candidates who made the stage a chance to take a swing at him before the Nevada caucuses Saturday and, more critically, ahead of Super Tuesday on March 3. Bloomberg, who made a late entry into the race, is counting on a strong showing on that day of coast-to-coast balloting after skipping the early contests, including Nevada.


Billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg faced attacks by other Democratic presidential candidates on the debate stage in Las Vegas on Wednesday night. Former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren also turned their fire on each other. The candidates sparred over healthcare, experience, sexism and transparency.

Feb. 19, 2020

Here’s what you need to know about Wednesday’s debate:

What time is the debate?

It will begin at 6 p.m. Pacific time and last two hours. NBC News, MSNBC and the Nevada Independent are hosting the debate at the Paris Theater in Las Vegas. It will be moderated by NBC News’ Lester Holt and Chuck Todd, MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson, Noticias Telemundo’s Vanessa Hauc and the Nevada Independent’s Jon Ralston.

How do I watch it?

The debate will air on NBC and MSNBC, as well as stream on their websites and Facebook pages. Viewers can also watch via the NBC News apps for mobile and platforms such as Apple TV and Roku. The Nevada Independent will broadcast the debate online. It will air in Spanish on Universo and the Noticias Telemundo website, mobile app and Facebook page.

Who made the debate?

Former Vice President Joe Biden; Bloomberg; former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have qualified.

There were three ways to qualify for this debate: reach 10% in four polls (either national polls or state-wide polls in South Carolina or Nevada) between Jan. 15 and Feb. 18; reach 12% in two state-wide polls in South Carolina or Nevada during that same time frame; or gain at least one national delegate in Iowa or New Hampshire.

Bloomberg? That’s new

Yep! Last month the DNC dropped its debate qualification requirement on grassroots fundraising. The change would allow voters to watch the surging Bloomberg, who has vowed not to take any campaign contributions, debate his rivals.

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Why was the rule change controversial?

Candidates have been calling on the DNC to loosen the debate requirements for months. Ahead of the Dec. 19 debate in Los Angeles, nine Democratic candidates wrote to DNC chair Tom Perez asking that they be required to meet either the fundraising or polling thresholds, but not both. The candidates argued at the time that rule change would increase the diversity on the debate stage.

The DNC refused. Then, after the party modified the debate requirements last month, some accused the DNC of making the change for the sole benefit of Bloomberg.


“I guess if you’re worth $60 billion, you can change the rules,” Sanders said in a CBS interview. “I think that is very, very unfortunate.”

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, the remaining candidate of color in the race, did not qualify for the Las Vegas debate. Neither did billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer.

Now the candidates get to target Bloomberg

Yes. But Bloomberg will also get the national stage to defend his record, including past comments advocating for New York City’s “stop and frisk” policing policy that disproportionately targeted Latino and black men, and blaming the end of redlining — a discriminatory policy that prevented minorities from getting mortgages — for triggering the 2008 financial crisis.

Biden and others have signaled they intend to bring up those issues. So Bloomberg, who has since disavowed those statements, will no doubt be prepared to respond.

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Feb. 17, 2020

What topics will likely come up?

Nevada, where Latinos and Asian Americans make up a significant portion of the electorate, is the first diverse state on the primary calendar, as well as the first Western state, and some questions may reflect that shift. Moderators could ask the candidates about their immigration platforms and how they’d push them through Congress. Climate change, one of the top concerns for Democrats across the country, is another potential issue, along with healthcare.

The Culinary Workers Union Local 226, a powerful force in Nevada politics, has been critical of the “Medicare for all” plan advocated by Sanders and Warren, fearing it would undermine the gold-plated healthcare benefits its 60,000 members enjoy.

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Feb. 18, 2020


What else is at stake Wednesday night?

The Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina primary could be the one-two punch that knocks a few candidates out of the race. As Klobuchar demonstrated earlier this month, a stellar debate performance and the buzz that follows can give a candidate a meaningful boost.

Biden, after coming in fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire, is betting that his support with minority voters will greatly improve his performance. Buttigieg and Klobuchar, who have low support with minorities, need to prove that they can do well in a state that isn’t overwhelmingly white. Warren is attempting to stop her campaign’s downward slide, and Sanders is hoping his strong backing with Latino voters will establish him as the party’s clear-cut front-runner.

All are hoping to pick up as much momentum as possible before Super Tuesday. Fourteen states will hold primaries March 3, awarding a sizable chunk of the 1,991 pledged delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination.

This is it, right? No more debates?

Sure, not until next week! Democrats will debate again in Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 25 ahead of the state’s Feb. 29 primary. This will be the third and final debate held in February.

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Feb. 18, 2020