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WBUR Analysts: Bloomberg Could See 'Significant Momentum' On Debate Stage07:02
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Democratic presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg speaks at a campaign event in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. (Gerald Herbert/AP)
Democratic presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg speaks at a campaign event in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

Billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg has now qualified for tomorrow's presidential debate in Las Vegas, with a new NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll placing him at 19% support among voters nationally. This is the fourth national poll in which the former New York City mayor has polled above 10% — which qualifies him for the Nevada debate, according to Democratic National Committee rules.

Bloomberg came in a distant second behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who leads the pack with 31% national support according to the poll.

Bloomberg joins Sanders and four other Democratic candidates on the debate stage Wednesday night: Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar.

With the Nevada caucuses coming up this weekend, WBUR's Bob Oakes sat down with Democrat Michael Curry, former president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, and former acting Republican Governor Jane Swift to discuss the race and Bloomberg's wildcard bid for the nomination.

Interview Highlights

The potential upside for Bloomberg on the debate stage

Jane Swift: One mistake some of the Democrats are making is I think they're casting him as similar to a Tom Steyer, who is someone who has no qualifications except his wealth ... Bloomberg actually has debated before; he has been — yes — a mayor, but of a pretty major city.

And so I think the expectations for his performance are pretty low. And should he be able to come out and hold his own with the rest of the field? I think that will actually give him significant credibility. ... And if they give him credibility, that could give him significant momentum.

Michael Curry: I would agree. I think he'll come in with a story to tell on what he did in New York around health care. Of course, he'll tell a criminal justice story that others will have a different viewpoint on. I anticipate he'll debate well. I think the increased attention from all the other candidates will catapult him as a front-runner because they'll be paying attention to him. And for someone who has not been on the stage to all of a sudden get that attention, that'll say a lot to the viewers.

On Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk comments that resurfaced last week

MC: I think it's vulnerable for him, as it is for others. Klobuchar has her issues with race and in a recent one with a prosecution of a young man who apparently turns out to be innocent. Buttigieg with Eric Logan in South Bend; Biden with his issues and positions on busing.

So he [Bloomberg] joins others with a flawed record around race. I think the interesting thing for him is he's ... defending on one hand, why he did what he did, but also apologizing on the other hand.

JS: So I think that we have a fraught history with race in our country. And every single person who has served in office is going to have something they're going to have to defend. ... And if there's anybody out there who has never said something that [was] taken in a different context 20 years later ... then they likely hadn't served before. What we'll find out [now], is how good of a politician he is, stepping up to this next level ... at some point, if you want to be president of the United States, you have to step up and be able to show that level of political skillsmanship.

On whether Bernie Sanders can keep his momentum

JS: Well, Bernie has a solid 26, 28%, which is exactly what we saw in the last go-around with Trump in a crowded field. You don't have to break 30% in order to keep amassing victories and it starts to give you a feeling of inevitability. I don't see Bernie as the candidate who's going to bring the country together. And a Bernie Sanders-Donald Trump final isn't exactly the inspirational race, I think many folks were thinking that we might need to bring our country together, but he is definitely starting to roll.

MC: You know, I think he faces some challenges. I think ... a great example ... is what's going on in Nevada with the Culinary Union, where they're opposing his candidacy because they want to keep their insurance and they don't support Medicare For All. So I think as he travels the country and when we get to Super Tuesday, there'll be some states and some constituencies, some voters, who are just not receptive to Bernie Sanders message.

On what Elizabeth Warren would need to do to revive her campaign

MC: She needs a spark. ... I think she's policy smart, she's passionate, but she's not been connecting recently. And ... I don't know if I've been able to put my finger on what that is. But she needs to find a spark like she did early in the campaign and get that momentum back.

On what Joe Biden would need to do to revive his campaign

JS: I ... think he has to give a rationale beyond electability of why he would be the best leader.

On who they expect to win the Nevada primary 

JS: Well, it certainly looks like Bernie Sanders is going to win. But if Biden pulls an upset, I think that just sends this race into a lot more confusion.

MC: Yeah, I think it looks like it could be Bernie, but you never know how the union issue will play out. I think we'll start to see some wins racking up for Biden, whether that's Nevada, [and] almost certainly South Carolina, depending on the Bloomberg factor.

This segment aired on February 18, 2020.

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Bob Oakes Twitter Host, Morning Edition
Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.

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Wilder Fleming Twitter Political Producer
Wilder Fleming is a political producer at WBUR, focused on the path to November 2020.

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