Wounded but defiant, Bloomberg promises to keep fighting

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From left, Democratic presidential candidates, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, in Las Vegas, hosted by NBC News and MSNBC. (AP Photo/John Locher)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – His aura suddenly shattered, a defiant Michael Bloomberg sent a pointed message Thursday to a political world grappling with his underwhelming presidential debate debut: He's not going away.

The New York ultra-billionaire lashed out at leading Democratic rival Bernie Sanders and President Donald Trump, addressing voters face to face in the Super Tuesday state of Utah. That was just hours after struggling to answer dangerous yet predictable questions about his record on race, gender and wealth during a nationally televised beatdown that rattled would-be supporters and thrilled critics in both parties.

Bloomberg didn't go easy in his own review of the Las Vegas debate:

“How was your night last night? Look, the real winner in the debate last night was Donald Trump,” Bloomberg told a crowd of several hundred in Utah's largest city.

But then he added: “He thinks I’m going to go away. Wrong, Donald."

Though never onstage with his rivals before Wednesday night, the former New York mayor has built support in national polls though huge expenditures on polished television ads. He released a campaign finance report Thursday that reminded rivals in both parties of his indisputable advantage in the 2020 contest: Money.

Specifically, the man worth an estimated $60 billion reported spending $409 million through the first nine weeks of his presidential campaign, including $220 million last month alone.

Still, there were signs that his debate performance shook the confidence of would-be supporters who, just 24 hours earlier, believed Bloomberg might be the ideal candidate for the Democratic Party's anxious establishment to rally behind. Instead, a new reality began to settle in, at least among some prominent donors and political operatives, who acknowledged a stark divide between the strength of Bloomberg-the-brand and Bloomberg-the-candidate.