After fiery Democratic debate, Bloomberg seeks rebound as rivals hit campaign trail

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – The Democratic presidential contenders began a frantic dash for votes on Thursday after a fiery debate left big-spending billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s candidacy badly bruised and several of his rivals jockeying to be the moderate alternative to liberal U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.

With two days to go before the presidential caucuses in Nevada and contests looming in South Carolina, then 14 states on Super Tuesday on March 3, including California, Utah and Colorado, most candidates will scatter across those states over the next several days for rallies and get-out-the vote events.

The blistering attacks launched on Wednesday night at Bloomberg – over his record on race, history of sexist comments and use of his fortune to push his way up in opinion polls – damaged his pitch that he has the best chance of beating Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election.

The former New York City mayor, who entered the race late and will not be on primary ballots until Super Tuesday, has tried to position himself as a moderate alternative to Sanders, a democratic socialist.

Bloomberg’s campaign moved to stem the fallout early on Thursday by announcing new endorsements from U.S. House of Representatives members from New York, New Jersey and California, after arguing on Wednesday night that he was “just warming up” and promised a stronger performance during next week’s debate in South Carolina.

Rivals Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg all leaped at the chance to go after the media mogul, who has surged in polls by spending hundreds of millions of dollars out of his own pocket on an advertising blitz.

Warren landed early jabs at Bloomberg related to accusations of sexist comments and his support while mayor of stop-and-frisk police policies that ensnared disproportionate numbers of blacks and Latinos. The U.S. senator from Massachusetts told CNN after the debate that she had “no doubt” that Bloomberg would open his wallet to “try to erase the memory of what happened on that debate stage.”

Warren’s campaign said it set fundraising records on Wednesday by raising $425,000 during the first hour of the debate and $2.8 million over the course of the day. Sanders’ campaign likewise announced it had raised a record $2.7 million on Wednesday.

Nevada’s caucuses are the third contest in the state-by-state race to find a challenger to Trump. South Carolina holds its primary on Feb. 29.

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has a town hall meeting and a fundraiser scheduled in Los Angeles, and Bloomberg has a morning event in Utah.

Warren and former Vice President Biden will have a town hall that airs on CNN on Thursday night from Las Vegas. Klobuchar, a senator from Minnesota, has a campaign event in Colorado.

Trump delivered his judgment on Bloomberg’s performance with critical tweets late on Wednesday and on Thursday morning. In one post he wrote, “Worst debate performance in history!”

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