WASHINGTON - Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has qualified for the next Democratic presidential debate, his first step into the main spotlight of the race to go up against President Donald Trump in the November election.
A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist national poll released early Tuesday showed Bloomberg with 19% support, trailing only Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who led with 31%.
Bloomberg's showing meant he achieved the required 10% support in at least four national polls required by the party to participate in Wednesday's debate in the state of Nevada.
Bloomberg is not even contesting the state's caucus set to be held Saturday, nor the next primary election in South Carolina as he sits out the first four nominating contests in favor of focusing his efforts on March 3 when 14 states will hold their votes.
Former Vice President Joe Biden was third in the poll at 15% followed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 12%, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar with 9% and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 8%.
As Bloomberg has risen in polls after joining the race late, he has become the target of stinging barbs from his fellow Democratic rivals, as well as Trump, who mocked him last week as a "mass of dead energy," and calling him "Mini Mike" for his short stature.
In turn, Bloomberg called Trump "a carnival barking clown," adding, "Where I come from, we measure your height from the neck up."
Democratic opponents have accused Bloomberg, said to be worth $62 billion, of trying to buy the party nomination.
Bloomberg reportedly has spent nearly $400 million of his own money on a wide array of campaign ads, and has hired hundreds of campaign workers ahead of the March 3 voting in 14 states, known as Super Tuesday, when he will be on the ballot.
Bloomberg accumulated his wealth as the founder of his eponymous business information company and also the Bloomberg News website.
Sanders, a self-declared democratic socialist, has increasingly attacked Bloomberg, who was New York's mayor from 2002 to 2013.
"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 at one rally.
Sanders attacked Bloomberg's "racist" policy of "stop-and-frisk" arrests of people in high-crime New York neighborhoods when he was mayor, a policy Bloomberg has apologized for as he runs for president.
'Stop and frisk'
A 2015 recording surfaced last week of Bloomberg saying the best way to reduce gun violence among young, minority men was to "throw them up against a wall and frisk them."
Bloomberg acknowledged over the weekend, "I've gotten a lot of grief for [stop and frisk] lately, but I defended it for too long, and because I didn't fully understand the unintentional pain it caused young black and brown kids and their families. I should have acted sooner, and I should have stopped it. I didn't, and I apologized for that."
Biden, on NBC's "Meet the Press" news program Sunday, said, "Sixty billion dollars can buy you a lot of advertising, but it can't erase your record."
On the same show, another presidential contender, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, said: "He just can't hide behind the airwaves. I can't beat him on the airwaves, but I can beat him on the debate stage, and I think people of America deserve that to make a decision."
Bloomberg has also drawn new scrutiny by major U.S. news outlets. Over the weekend, The Washington Post published a lengthy story of Bloomberg's profane, sexist and misogynist comments targeting women who worked at his financial services company.
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told the "Fox News Sunday" show, "The way Michael Bloomberg treated employees - female employees, who were under his wing, who were relying on him for their livelihoods, for their health benefits, for their 401ks - to have created that kind of culture, that unsafe workplace, to feel like you're being harassed because of your gender, that is problematic. I think you're going to hear more of it."
The Bloomberg campaign denied some of the quotes attributed to him in the newspaper story, while the candidate offered a more general comment on his attitude toward professional women in the workplace.
"I've depended on their leadership, their advice and their contributions," he wrote on Twitter. "As I've demonstrated throughout my career, I will always be a champion for women in the workplace."
As for the sudden spate of attacks, the Bloomberg campaign was dismissive.
"It's not surprising that as Mike continues to rise in the polls, other candidates, including Donald Trump, start to get nervous," it said.