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Bernie Sanders to confront billionaire Michael Bloomberg on debate stage after years of railing against money in politics

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Democratic presidential front-runner Bernie Sanders has railed against billionaires and their influence on politics for years. On Wednesday in Las Vegas, he will face off on the debate stage against one of the world's richest men, the rapidly rising Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg makes his debut on the debate stage in Nevada, one of the four early states where he decided not to compete, after spending a stunning $419 million on television ads, which has helped him to meet the polling criteria set by the Democratic National Committee.

The other candidates telegraphed Wednesday that the former New York mayor's record on everything from policing techniques to his past party affiliation will be a central focus at the NBC debate on Wednesday at the Paris Theater in Las Vegas. Bloomberg leapfrogged former Vice President Joe Biden in new national poll from NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist, landing in second place with 19% behind Sanders, who drew 31%.

As Bloomberg has risen in the polls, he has confronted heavy media scrutiny of his record, providing ample fodder for his rivals to sift through during the debate. As they vie for minority voters, his rivals will be looking to highlight Bloomberg's support of New York City's "stop and frisk" policy as mayor, which disproportionately targeted black and Latino people.

Bloomberg has also been forced to confront misogynistic and sexually crude comments that he used in the workplace in the 1980s and 1990s, some of which ended up in discrimination lawsuits against him.

In a party that has worked hard to broadcast a message of inclusion to the LGBTQ community, Bloomberg referred to transgender people last year as "he, she, or it" and "some guy wearing a dress" while arguing that the party has become too deeply mired in social issues, as BuzzFeed first reported on Tuesday.

Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar have all highlighted the exorbitant amount of money that Bloomberg has spent to endear himself to Democratic voters. Businessman Tom Steyer has spent half the amount that Bloomberg has, with nearly $195 million in spending on ads, while Sanders' deep support among small dollar donors has allowed him to lead the rest of the non-billionaire Democratic field with $43.7 million in spending. Warren has proposed a "wealth tax" on millionaires and billionaires, which Sanders has supported.

"We are a democracy, not an oligarchy. You're not going to buy this election," Sanders warned Bloomberg on Monday during a rally in Tacoma, Washington.

The Vermont senator went on to say Bloomberg would certainly not win "when you have a record in New York City that included racist policies like 'stop and frisk,' which (led) communities of color -- African Americans and Latinos -- to live in fear and humiliation."

Bloomberg began apologizing for the city's use of "stop and frisk" as the presidential campaign began heating up in 2019.

Steyer, who has been competing with Biden for the support of black voters in early states, tweeted out a digital video attacking Bloomberg's support for the "stop and frisk" policy. Bloomberg apologized in 2019, and his advisers said he stopped supporting the policy in 2013.

Bloomberg "supported Stop-and-Frisk and said ending redlining caused the financial crisis. Those policies were racist. I started a non-profit bank to help people in underserved communities get housing and start businesses. We need a president for ALL of America," Steyer tweeted.

Bloomberg and Biden have sparred lightly, trading tweets this week with each rival showing the other heaping praise on their respective records before they were both in the 2020 race.

Previewing his debate night strategy during a visit to the Culinary Union picket line outside the Palms Casino Resort on Wednesday, Biden said he planned to tell "the truth" about Bloomberg's record that he has "basically been a Republican his whole life."

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