WASHINGTON — Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York has qualified for the next two Democratic debates, including one Wednesday in Las Vegas. It will be his first appearance onstage alongside his presidential rivals.
A national poll from NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist released Tuesday showed Bloomberg with 19% support among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents — his best result yet in a debate-qualifying poll, and good enough for second place behind Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who had 31%.
Later in the day, a national poll from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal showed Bloomberg at 14%: again behind Sanders (27%), and alongside former Vice President Joe Biden (15%) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (14%).
Bloomberg will face off Wednesday night against Biden, Sanders, Warren, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
The debate, which will air at 9 p.m. Eastern time, will be hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, Telemundo and The Nevada Independent.
The polls showed a substantial surge for Bloomberg, who received only 4% support in the last NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll in December, and 9% in the last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in January.
Sanders’ support has also increased significantly since the last NPR/PBS/Marist poll, which showed him with 22%. His numbers did not change in the NBC/Wall Street Journal polls.
Biden came in third in the new NPR/PBS/Marist poll, with 15%, followed by Warren at 12%, Klobuchar at 9% and Buttigieg at 8%. The poll surveyed 527 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents by phone Feb. 13-16 and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5.4 percentage points.
The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll surveyed 426 Democrats from Feb. 14-17 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.75 percentage points.
The latest national polling average calculated by The New York Times, which was released late last week, put Bloomberg at 10%, behind Sanders, Biden and Warren.
Bloomberg formally entered the race in November, nearly a year after most of the other candidates. He failed to make the cut for the past several debates in part because he is not accepting outside contributions for his campaign. But new rules announced by the Democratic National Committee opened the door to his participation, as they enabled candidates to qualify for the Las Vegas debate, as well as the one that will take place Feb. 25 in Charleston, South Carolina, without meeting a donor threshold.
He is certain to face onstage criticism Wednesday night from his rivals, especially Sanders and Warren, the two candidates who are not appearing at private fundraisers and who have made targeting billionaires central to their campaigns.
Last week in Virginia, Warren told supporters that Bloomberg should not be the Democratic Party’s nominee because of his past remarks linking the end of redlining, a discriminatory housing practice, to the financial crisis.
Both Warren and Sanders previewed their arguments against Bloomberg in remarks Tuesday.
“Anybody here with $60 billion, you can run for president, and you can buy the airwaves,” Sanders said in a speech in Reno, Nevada. “That is called oligarchy, not democracy.”
Warren was more pointed. “It’s a shame Mike Bloomberg can buy his way into the debate,” she wrote on Twitter. “But at least now primary voters curious about how each candidate will take on Donald Trump can get a live demonstration of how we each take on an egomaniac billionaire.”
Bloomberg’s campaign manager, Kevin Sheekey, confirmed Tuesday that Bloomberg would take part in the next debate.
“Mike is looking forward to joining the other Democratic candidates onstage and making the case for why he’s the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump and unite the country,” Sheekey said. “The opportunity to discuss his workable and achievable plans for the challenges facing this country is an important part of the campaign process.”
Also on Tuesday, Monmouth University released a poll of Virginia voters showing Bloomberg and Sanders tied at 22% each and leading the field. With 99 delegates at stake, Virginia is the fourth-largest prize on the Super Tuesday calendar, and Monmouth’s is the first poll to have been taken there since the summer. It is one of the first polls of any state in which Bloomberg has broken 20%. (The Virginia poll has no effect on qualifications for the next two debates.)
The other two candidates in the race, billionaire Tom Steyer and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, appeared unlikely to receive the requisite 10% support in four national qualifying polls, or 12% in two polls taken in Nevada or South Carolina, before the qualification deadline for Wednesday’s debate.
They have another six days to qualify for next week’s debate. They can also qualify for that one by earning at least one delegate in Nevada.
Candidates were able to qualify for the Nevada and South Carolina debates by winning at least one delegate in the Iowa or New Hampshire contests; that is the path Klobuchar and Buttigieg, who have not met either polling threshold, followed to get their invitations to the stage in Las Vegas.
Bloomberg has spent more than $300 million on TV advertising nationwide — more than the rest of the field combined — and he has seen his standing steadily rise in national polling as voters have been saturated by his campaign commercials.
He decided to skip the first four nominating contests, held in states where campaigns traditionally spend a year organizing supporters, to focus instead on the delegate-rich primaries that take place beginning on Super Tuesday, March 3. His rivals, meanwhile, have been torn between attacking him and battling one another in the early-state contests.
Bloomberg, who has emerged in recent years as a leading financial benefactor for Democratic candidates and some liberal causes, such as gun control and environmental protection, entered politics as a Republican when he first ran for mayor in 2001. He endorsed President George W. Bush and spoke at the 2004 Republican National Convention.
He has backed other Republicans as well, including former Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who was ousted by Warren in 2012, and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, a gun control ally, in 2016.