Michael Bloomberg has faced a barrage of attacks at his first Democratic presidential debate as his rivals rushed to criticise the billionaire businessman for his wealth, record on race and history of sexist comments.
Bloomberg seemed nervous and hesitant in a rough debut before a national audience that gave voters their first unscripted look at the media mogul and former New York mayor, who has surged in polls while spending hundreds of millions of his own dollars on television ads.
Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg lined up to go after Bloomberg, frequently shouting over one another as they vied for attention in the most contentious of the nine Democratic White House debates.
All the contenders accused Bloomberg of trying to buy his way into the White House and said his record as mayor and a businessman would lead the party to defeat in November.
"Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another," said Warren, a senator from Massachusetts.
Bloomberg has been accused over the years of many sexist and misogynist comments, and several lawsuits have been filed alleging that women were discriminated against at his media company.
Bloomberg, who entered the race in November and is skipping the first four early voting states in February to focus on later nominating contests in March, has risen to No. 2 among Democrats behind Sanders, according to a Reuters/Ipsos national poll.
Bloomberg said at the debate that he was using his money for an important cause.
"I'm spending that money to get rid of Donald Trump - the worst president we've ever had. And if I can get that done, it will be a great contribution to America and to my kids," he said.
The debate came at a pivotal time, three days before Nevada's presidential caucuses, the third contest in the state-by-state race to find a challenger to Trump in the November 3 election.
The high stakes were evident in the intensity of the exchanges, with Biden and Warren, in particular, facing the do-or-die task of reigniting their campaigns after poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire earlier this month.
Both criticised Bloomberg for his treatment of women.
The two asked him to commit to releasing women who had signed non-disclosure agreements to settle lawsuits. Bloomberg refused, saying they were made "consensually" with the expectation that they would stay private.
Sanders, a progressive senator who has surged to the top of polls, criticised Bloomberg's support for "stop-and-frisk" police policies as mayor that "went after African-American and Latino people in an outrageous way."
Biden said Bloomberg had not managed New York very well during his three terms as mayor and said stop and frisk had thrown "close to 5 million young black men up against the wall."
Bloomberg has long struggled with the legacy of the "stop-and-frisk" policy, which encouraged police to stop and search pedestrians and ensnared disproportionate numbers of blacks and Latinos.
Bloomberg said he was "worried" and "embarrassed" about his support for stop and frisk and that he had apologised for supporting it.
But his rivals were not willing to let him off the hook.
Trump was happy to inject himself into the debate pile-on of Bloomberg, telling supporters at a rally in Phoenix: "I hear he's getting pounded tonight."
The Nevada caucuses are the first in a state with a more diverse population after contests in predominantly white Iowa and New Hampshire.
Those first contests produced a split verdict, with Buttigieg, 38, the moderate former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, edging Sanders in Iowa, and Sanders narrowly beating Buttigieg in New Hampshire.
Australian Associated Press