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The Latest: Sanders claims Bloomberg will not excite voters

Posted at 10:00 AM, Feb 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-16 01:08:08-05

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Latest on the 2020 presidential campaign (all times local):

10:40 p.m.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders laced into billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a Democratic Party dinner in Las Vegas while Bloomberg was campaigning in Virginia.

Sanders rattled off a list of Bloomberg heresies against the Democratic party -- implementing “racist policies like stop and frisk” in New York, opposing the minimum wage or higher taxes on the wealthy during the Obama administration.

"The simple truth is that mayor Bloomberg with all his money will not create the kind of excitement and energy we need to have the voter turnout we must have to defeat Donald Trump,” Sanders said.

It was a rare attack by name from Sanders. Bloomberg is skipping the Nevada caucuses and did not go to the Clark County Democratic Party dinner where Sanders and other 2020 contenders spoke.

At a Saturday campaign event in Virgina, Bloomberg told a crowd of more than 900 that he's running a campaign focused on defeating President Donald Trump — and that to win in November, “we absolutely have to win this commonwealth.”

"I am running to defeat Donald Trump and I am running to restore honor to our country, to build a country that we’re proud of, and to start getting things done. To start putting the word ‘united’ back in the United States of America," he said.

9:10 p.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden delivered a fiery speech at the Clark County Democratic Party gala a week before the Nevada presidential preference caucuses as he drew sharp distinctions with Bernie Sanders on guns and healthcare.

Biden didn’t call Sanders’ name Saturday night as he stood in a casino ballroom and recalled the worst mass shooting in modern American history that occurred several hundred yards away in 2017. Then the former vice president alluded to the Sanders' Senate vote for a 2005 law that gave gun manufacturers immunity from civil lawsuits related to gun violence.

“It’s a horrible, horrible decision,” Biden said, asking the audience to imagine Big Tobacco having legal immunity. He recalled meeting parents of children killed in school shootings. “I will not rest until they’re able to sue the gun manufacturers,” he said.

Biden later turned to health care. Again without naming Sanders, Biden repeated a recent argument from the power Culinary Union that a single-payer “Medicare for All” system would eliminate union members’ health coverage won through collective bargaining. Biden touted his idea to add a “public option” to existing health insurance markets.

5:10 p.m.

Some Nevada Democrats who made Bernie Sanders their first choice in the state's early caucus voting say they think he has a better chance of being elected president now than he did in 2016.

Solana Kline of Reno says she supported Sanders last time too, but didn't think he could win so she opted for Hillary Clinton because she was more mainstream. Kline says the whole political climate has changed since then and Sanders vs. Donald Trump would be viewed more as good vs. evil. Clinton carried Nevada in 2016, but Sanders won in Washoe County, which includes Reno and Sparks.

Brian Feeney says Sanders has more support and is better positioned to win this time around. The 42-year-old behavioral analyst who works with children with autism at the University of Nevada, Reno says he may consider the Green Party candidate if Sanders isn't the Democratic nominee.

Margaret Hines of Reno also backed Clinton in 2016 but says Sanders is inspiring voters to take back their power from leaders in Washington. She doesn't think “vanilla is going to do it this time.”

4:15 p.m.

Paul Kiser is among the Nevadans who had the candidates' electability on their minds when they cast their early ballots Saturday ahead of the Feb. 22 presidential caucus.

The 62-year-old retiree from Reno says he settled on Pete Buttigieg because he's progressive but "reasonable.”

Kiser backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 and plans to support the candidate who wins the Democratic nomination.

But he isn't sure Bernie Sanders appeals to a broad enough spectrum of voters to beat President Trump and doesn't think Elizabeth Warren has proven she's viable. He says Joe Biden represents too much of the party's old guard.

Randall Chicola says it came down to a “coin flip” when he listed Sanders first and Warren second. The 33-year-old graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno says those who dismiss the progressives ignore the fact that a right-wing extremist is president.

Chicola says Republicans don't bat an eye at spending $1 trillion on tax cuts, but claim that spending money on health care or lowering student debt is extreme.

3:30 p.m.

A number of early-caucus voters in northern Nevada said health care was their top priority when they decided which Democrat to put on the top of their ballot.

Lindsy Judd says her family currently has no health insurance because it's too expensive. She was among several voters who told The Associated Press on Saturday they made Bernie Sanders their first pick and Elizabeth Warren second.

Judd says the candidate who wins the Democratic nomination will get her vote in November. And she says she understands why some Democrats believe the party is better off with more of a mainstream nominee.

But the 33-year-old who lives in a valley north of Reno says she needed to cast her ballot for someone who is serious about tackling the cost of health insurance, which she says rivals her housing costs.

Jennifer Cole, a 48-year-old librarian from Reno, listed health care and housing as her two top issues when she settled on Warren as her favorite. She put Pete Buttigieg second and Amy Klobuchar third on her ballot.

1:40 p.m.

Early caucus-goers in Nevada waited more than an hour in line outside an AFL-CIO union office precinct site in a Las Vegas suburb on Saturday for their chance to fill in paper ballots for a Democratic challenger to President Donald Trump.

A retired Chicago municipal worker, Charlene Wortman, said the wait was “worth it to try to save democracy.” The 71-year-old woman said she wanted to see parity for health care before she died.

With more than 100 people in line and just two volunteers working to sign in voters at the door, some asked precinct captain Matt Kimball if they could help. Kimball was busy and upbeat but told the volunteers they had to have training.

In line on a sunny, comfortable winter day, sisters Kathylan Tilley of Las Vegas and Maurine Amie of Henderson said they were happy about the large turnout and liked the idea of early caucus balloting.


12:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump is keeping up his pattern of scheduling political rallies in states right before they hold election contests in the Democratic presidential race.

Trump plans a rally in Las Vegas this coming Friday. That's one day before the Nevada caucuses.

The Republican president held a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 30, just days before the Iowa caucuses kicked off the 2020 contests.

And he was in Manchester, New Hampshire, for a rally on the eve of last Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.

Trump is making a swing through Western states this coming week and he also has rallies planned in Phoenix and Colorado Springs, Colorado.


12:20 p.m.

Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he's marked himself as “uncommitted” as he cast an early vote ballot in Nevada’s caucuses on Saturday.

Reid so far has decided not to endorse in the Democratic presidential race. He tells reporters outside a caucus site at an east Las Vegas library that he didn’t cast his vote for any candidate in particular because he has so many friends running for president and he admires the work they’re all doing.

He says Nevada’s caucuses will be “a breath of fresh air” after what he calls the “debacle” with Iowa’s caucuses, the leadoff contest. The New Hampshire primary was last Tuesday. Nevada's caucuses are next Saturday.


12:05 p.m.

The Democratic National Committee has set its qualifying thresholds for the Feb. 25 debate in South Carolina, and for the second time in a row, the party is setting rules that would provide former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg with a path to the stage.

Candidates can qualify based on either polling requirements or delegate thresholds from previous state nominating contests. But candidates don't have to meet both.

On polling, candidates must reach 10% support in at least four national polls or some combination of four polls taken nationally and in South Carolina. They also could qualify by reaching 12% in just two South Carolina polls. Any qualifying polls must be released publicly between Feb. 4 and Feb. 24.

Candidates also could qualify if they've earned a delegate in any previous contest. From Iowa and New Hampshire, that qualifies Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren.

Bloomberg is skipping the four early states, so has no delegates. But the billionaire businessman is approaching the polling thresholds.

The rules are patterned after those that the party's chairman, Tom Perez, already announced for Wednesday’s debate in Nevada.

Perez took some heat for dropping as a requirement having a minimum number of grassroots donors.

Bloomberg isn’t raising any money and is relying on his personal fortune, and never could have qualified under such rules. But Perez also has gotten pressure from some campaigns that want Bloomberg on the debate stage to face the same scrutiny that other candidates have endured for months.

Bloomberg hasn't yet qualified for the Nevada debate. There's a Tuesday deadline to meet the requirements.


12 p.m.

Does Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden think he needs to win Nevada's caucuses next Saturday?

His answer is that he has “to do well” in order to mount a comeback for the race for the 2020 nomination after back-of-the-pack finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Biden is in Las Vegas and he spoke to about 100 campaign volunteers gathered at a middle school gym for a Latino organizing event.

After the event, reporters asked him whether he has to win the caucuses. He said: "No, I don't think I have to, but I think we have a shot at winning."

Biden finished a disappointing fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire. That puts considerable pressure on him in Nevada and especially South Carolina.

He says the two states' more diverse electorates are better for him than the overwhelmingly white makeup of Iowa and New Hampshire.


11:40 a.m.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is criticizing President Donald Trump's immigration policies and rhetoric on immigration.

Biden is in Las Vegas where he's drawing a roar from about 100 campaign volunteers gathered at a middle school gym for a Latino organizing event.

The former vice president says: "Everybody knows how Donald Trump is. We gotta let him know who we are."

Biden is leaning heavily on the minority populations in Nevada and the upcoming South Carolina primary as his springboard back into contention in the 2020 primary.

He's thanking the volunteers, emphasizing the importance of the Latino vote and promoting his relationships with labor unions.

One powerful union in Las Vegas is the Culinary Union. It's not going to endorse before next Saturday's caucuses in Nevada.

But Biden believes he has strong appeal with rank-and-file members because of his "public option" health care proposal that would leave in place unions' negotiated health care benefits.

The union earlier this week published a flyer suggesting that "Medicare for All" plans backed by rival Bernie Sanders would "end" Culinary members' health coverage.


11:35 a.m.

Bernie Sanders is going after his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination as he campaigns in Las Vegas.

The Vermont senator tells supporters at a suburban high school that the crowd he's addressing is “what democracy looks like.”

Sanders says "democracy is not candidates going to the homes of billionaires raising money.” That's an apparent dig at Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

Next in Sanders' sights is Mike Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor. Sanders says "democracy is not billionaires spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to get elected. Democracy is when working people stand up, fight for justice.”

After the rally, supporters marched to a nearby polling location to vote in the first day of early voting in the Nevada caucuses.


11:15 a.m.

Elizabeth Warren is pitching her universal child care plan and jabbing at her wealthy rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination as she begins a day of campaigning in Las Vegas.

About 30 people, mostly women, packed into a handful of tables to sip coffee and eat pastries at a reggae and cocktail bar to hear the Massachusetts senator.

Warren promoted her child care plan that would be paid for by a tax of 2 cents on every dollar for fortunes of more than $50 million.

She says it could help mothers finish their education and would benefit the economy. She doesn’t think every billionaire would go along with the so-called wealth tax.

Warren says "billionaires have gone on TV and cried. Others have run for president.” That line — which drew laughs and applause — was an apparent reference to 2020 rivals Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer.


11 a.m.

Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg is opening seven new campaign offices in Florida, bringing the total number to 10 throughout the state.

Offices in Fort Lauderdale, Gainesville, Sanford, Sarasota, Tallahassee, Tampa and West Palm Beach opened Saturday.

The former New York mayor already had offices in St. Petersburg, Orlando, and the Little Havana area of Miami.

Campaign officials say 10 additional offices will open in coming weeks, as will a statewide campaign headquarters in Tampa. Bloomberg has been blanketing the TV airwaves with ads in Florida.

The Florida primary is March 17.


9:45 a.m.

Democrats are starting to cast votes in Nevada’s presidential caucuses as the still-crowded field of candidates is fanning out across Las Vegas.

Early voting started Saturday morning at more than 80 locations across the state. Nevada Democrats are holding four days of early voting for their caucuses, the first test of a candidate’s appeal to a diverse population with strong labor unions.

Early votes cast on paper ballots will be added to in-person caucus votes made on Feb. 22, when Democrats will attend about 2,000 precinct meetings around the state.

This year, with the results of Iowa's caucuses muddled by technology and reporting problems, Nevada is under pressure to pull off a problem-free caucus. The Nevada State Democratic Party abandoned its original plans to use an app like the one that caused trouble in Iowa and has scrambled to come up with a new system to tabulate results.

Candidates are making a get-out-the-vote push with rallies and town halls Saturday, followed by appearances Saturday night at a fundraising gala for the Las Vegas-based Clark County Democratic Party.