WASHINGTON--U.S. Democratic presidential candidates took aim on Thursday at a rival whose name has not yet appeared on the ballot in the early-voting states, but whose television ads have blanketed the airwaves: former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who trailed in contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, targeted Bloomberg over past policing tactics in the United States' largest city and his comments about a mortgage practice widely seen as racially discriminatory.
A late entry to the presidential race, Bloomberg drew crowds of hundreds of people in North Carolina, one of the 14 states that vote in March 3's Super Tuesday contest, where he will first appear as a declared candidate. Voters at those events said they were evaluating whether Bloomberg, a self-made billionaire, could beat Republican President Donald Trump in November.
"I think Mike Bloomberg can stand up to Trump," said Maureen Scott, 68, a retiree in Winston-Salem
Biden, a moderate whose early front-runner status has been dented by poor performances so far, said he planned to debate Bloomberg on his record on racial discrimination, while Warren slammed the former New York mayor's past defense of a discriminatory housing practice known as redlining.
Bloomberg, who is self-financing his campaign, has come under fire for comments he made in 2008 that tied a collapse in the U.S. housing market to a ban on redlining, a practice in which banks decline to make mortgage loans to entire neighbourhoods.
"Once you started pushing in that direction, banks started making more and more loans where the credit of the person buying the house wasn't as good as you would like," Bloomberg said in remarks that resurfaced in a report by the Associated Press.
Redlining has long been associated with racial discrimination, although Bloomberg's 2008 comments described the practice as banks avoiding poor neighbourhoods.
Biden suggested he would challenge Bloomberg on the matter and on Bloomberg's past support for a policing strategy known as "stop and frisk" that Bloomberg employed as mayor and which ensnared disproportionate numbers of blacks and Latinos. "I'm going to get a chance to debate him on everything from redlining to stop and frisk," Biden told ABC's The View.
Bloomberg has not yet qualified for the Feb. 19 Democratic debate in Nevada, which will be held just ahead of the state's Feb. 22 nominating contest. Bloomberg is not competing in Nevada or South Carolina, which votes on Feb. 29.