While the first eight debates leading up to the contest in Las Vegas were governed more or less by cordiality, the language onstage in Nevada on Wednesday night was far scrappier, as the Democrats made their final case before the Silver State caucuses on Saturday. While all the candidates — save for the relatively inert Michael Bloomberg — were energized by the presence of the new candidate (and target), the presidential hopefuls tended to go after the politician ideologically closest to them (see Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg) in an attempt to peel away a few points of support from undecided voters. Below are the key moments from the most contentious debate yet.
Warren goes for Bloomberg from the jump
Aware of the opportunity for to boost her disappointing performances in New Hampshire and Iowa, the Massachusetts senator came for Bloomberg immediately. “I’d like to talk about who we’re running against, a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians,” Warren said. I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg,” she said, adding that the country is at “huge risk of substituting one arrogant billionaire for another.”
Bernie Sanders also went after Bloomberg for stop-and-frisk, “which went after African-American and Latino people in an outrageous way.”
While Buttigieg comes for Bloomberg and Bernie
“We could wake up two weeks from today, the day after Super Tuesday, and the only candidates left standing will be Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg,” Pete Buttigieg said. “Let’s put forward somebody who is actually a Democrat. We shouldn’t have to choose between one candidate who wants to burn this party down and another candidate who wants to buy this party out.” Buttigieg, who hopes to solidify his strong numbers in the two earliest states, repeated this call throughout the night.
Warren is playing like her campaign depends on it (It does)
In a conversation about her walk-back of Medicare for All, Warren stated Pete Buttigieg’s slogan “Medicare for All who want it” was concocted by consultants, adding that it’s “not a plan, it’s a PowerPoint.” She then added that Amy Klobuchar’s health-care reform was even worse,” calling it a post-it note that says “insert plan here.”
Sanders answers on his health record
When asked about releasing his full medical report, Sanders demurred, pointing out that both he and his fellow septuagenarian Michael Bloomberg both had “two stents.” Bloomberg rejected the comparison, stating that his were implanted decades ago.
Bloomberg’s inevitable stop-and-frisk apology
The former mayor said he was “embarrassed” by the policy that he supported throughout his time in office, though he attempted to defend the practice with a misleading answer. But other candidates weren’t having it: “It’s not whether he apologizes or not,” said Joe Biden. “It’s abhorrent.”
And his history of alleged sexual harassment
Moderators also asked Bloomberg about the multiple allegations of sexual harassment, to which the candidate responded by mentioning the presence of several women whose careers he elevated during his time as mayor. On cue as part of her command debate performance, Warren wasn’t having it: “I hope you heard what his defense was,” Warren said. “I’ve been nice to some women.” Warren and Biden then called for Bloomberg to release women who have accused his company of sexual harassment from their non-disclosure agreements.
“Maybe they didn’t like a joke I told,” Bloomberg said, defending the practice because women “signed those agreements.” When Bloomberg stated that he would not release the parties from the NDAs because they were entered into “consensually,” the audience booed.
Klobuchar answers for forgetting the president of Mexico
After Amy Klobuchar forgot the name of the president of Mexico in an interview last week, the Minnesota senator was asked about her gaffe. She claimed it was an example of “momentary forgetfulness,” and checked her notes before stating his name: Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The exchange prompted Pete Buttigieg to mention that she was on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration, and that the lapse was significant. “Are you saying I’m dumb?” Klobuchar asked Buttigieg. “Are you mocking me here Pete?” It got a little chaotic:
Sanders calls climate change a “moral issue” in response to question on fracking ban
Moderator Chuck Todd asked Sanders over a report that Pennsylvania union leaders believe he could lose the state if he’s the nominee over his fracking ban. Sanders replied, “What I tell these workers is that the scientists are telling us that if we don’t act incredibly boldly within the next six, seven years, there will be irreparable damage done not just in Nevada, not just to Vermont or Massachusetts, but to the entire world.” He added, “This is a moral issue my friends,” and cited the job creation of the Green New Deal.
Pete Buttigieg then stated that the real deadline for climate action was not 2050 or 2040, but 2020, and repeated his call that the two apparent frontrunners, Bernie and Bloomberg, were too divisive.
The debate gets existential
After Chuck Todd pressed Sanders on a tweet stating that billionaires should not exist, the moderator asked the billionaire on the stage: “Mayor Bloomberg, should you exist?” He answered in the affirmative, saying that he earned his fortune. Sanders later replied that Bloomberg’s workers “played a role” in his wealth creation as well, and that he should credit them for it.
Bloomberg and Bernie continue to go at it
After Lester Holt asked Sanders about a poll in which those surveyed were hesitant about democratic socialism, Sanders answered by stating that he was leading the field in the very same poll. The conversation quickly devolved into Bloomberg asking why Sanders, the most prominent democratic socialist in the country, has three houses.
“I work in Washington, house one,” Sanders replied. “Live in Burlington, house two. Like thousands of other Vermonters, I have a summer camp. Which tax haven is your home?”
Pete and Amy, round two
After Klobuchar reiterated the importance of DACA recipients and the need for comprehensive immigration reform, Pete Buttigieg called out her approval of Trump’s judicial nominees, and her vote to make English the official language of the United States. “Do you know the message that sends?” he asked.
“I wish everyone was as perfect as you Pete,” Klobuchar responded. She claimed that his record did not hold up to hers, and that he had only “memorized talking points” up to this point.
An important process question
After Chuck Todd asked the candidates if the Democrat with a plurality of delegates entering the convention should become the nominee automatically, all candidates except Sanders said no. The Vermont senator — who is most likely to get a plurality of delegates — said yes.
Protestors disrupt Biden’s closing statement
After the other candidates gave televised versions of their stump speeches, the former vice-president was interrupted during his remarks, as protestors chanted “You deported three million people, we don’t want you here.”
This post has been updated.