Mike Bloomberg’s campaign acknowledged the presidential hopeful's shortcomings during his debate performance in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, saying the candidate was “just warming up” while adding: "Mike's got to get his legs under him."
Kevin Sheekey, Mr Bloomberg’s campaign manager, said in a statement after the former New York mayor was eviscerated by his opponents on Wednesday night: “You know you are a winner when you are drawing attacks from all the candidates.”
“Everyone came to destroy Mike tonight,” he added. “It didn’t happen.”
Even Mr Bloomberg himself suggested during a campaign stop the following morning that his debate performance may not have been as strong as the former New York City mayor had hoped for. Speaking to a crowd in Salt Lake City, the former mayor quipped: "So how was your night last night?"
“Look, the real winner of the debate, last night was Donald Trump,” he said, “because I worry that we may be on the way to nominating someone who cannot win in November.”
Mr Bloomberg was met with condemnation from the five other leading Democratic presidential candidates during his debate stage debut, with Elizabeth Warren attacking him over his past comments about women and former Vice President Joe Biden calling on the former mayor to release several women who accused him of sexual harassment from nondisclosure agreements.
He was also attacked over his past controversial support for a “stop-and-frisk” policy targeting black and brown communities under his tenure as the mayor of New York City.
In his statement defending Mr Bloomberg’s debate performance, Mr Sheekey said the former mayor “was just warming up tonight”. However, he later acknowledged in an interview with MSNBC that Mr Bloomberg could have defended himself better from the various attacks on his record.
“Certainly he had a better second half of the debate than the first, I will admit that," the campaign manager said, adding at one point: “Mike's got to get his legs under him.”
“You know, he got his legs quickly in the second half, and I think people recognized that," Mr Sheekey continued. “He's competing against career politicians who have spent the entirety of the last year and, quite frankly, most of their lives doing exactly what they saw last night."
The debate featured several tense moments between Mr Bloomberg and his opponents, including when Ms Warren interjected early on and said: “I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women 'fat broads' and 'horse-faced lesbians.' And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”
“Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of harassing women, and of supporting racist policies like redlining and stop and frisk,” she added. “Look, I’ll support whoever the Democratic nominee is, but understand this: Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.”
Mr Bloomberg defended himself against such attacks and declined to release his accusers from the binding nondisclosure agreements, causing audible groans within the crowd when he said: “None of them accuse me of doing anything other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told.”
Still, the billionaire presidential hopeful’s campaign pushed on with previously-scheduled campaign events throughout the day in Salt Lake City on Thursday, and was reportedly planning to announce an additional three congressional endorsements.