ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Michael Bloomberg was in Utah today trying to turn the page after a rocky performance in the Democratic debate in Las Vegas last night. He got a warm reception at his rally, which he joked was a welcome change.
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MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: And just like last night at the debate, except the other people on the stage are actually happy to see me now.
SHAPIRO: The former New York City mayor is spending a lot of money in the big group of states that will vote on March 3. Utah is one of those Super Tuesday states.
And NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe joins us now from Salt Lake City.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.
SHAPIRO: Bloomberg came under attack last night over his policing policies and his treatment of women, among other things. Did he respond to any of that today?
RASCOE: Not really. He didn't talk about the specific critiques about stop and frisk or his past comments about women, but what he did seem to do was to make a more affirmative case for himself as president and for his record in New York City and his charity work. He was a bit self-deprecating about his performance, but he argued that the infighting is not really helpful for Democrats. Here's some more from him on that.
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BLOOMBERG: Look. The real winner in the debate last night was Donald Trump because I worry that we may very well be on the way to nominating somebody who cannot win in November.
RASCOE: And he went on to talk about Senator Bernie Sanders. He said Sanders, who is arguably the front-runner for Democrats right now - Bloomberg says that Sanders has a small base and that nominating him would be a, quote, "fatal error." When he said that Trump was the real winner of the debate, well, Trump actually responded to that on Twitter and said that he agreed with that statement.
SHAPIRO: Very Trump-like.
RASCOE: Yes. But Bloomberg is happy to talk about Trump attacking him, and he did so at length today because his whole argument is that he's the real threat to Trump.
SHAPIRO: So how did the audience in Utah there seem to respond to Bloomberg's message today?
RASCOE: The crowd was pretty enthusiastic. There was brief heckling, but it was quickly drowned out. This was an early-morning event, but the campaign says there were more than 600 people in attendance. The people that I talked to mostly said they like Bloomberg because they view him as a moderate and as someone who could bring the country together. And almost to a person, when I asked about the debate, everyone pretty much said this was his first debate for this election, and they were cutting him some slack. But they also said they expect him to improve. Here's what one voter I talked to, Karen Belich, had to say.
KAREN BELICH: Well, I think he could've been better prepared for the onslaught. Surely, he should've known that he was going to be the one that they were going to go after. I thought Elizabeth Warren landed a pretty hard punch.
RASCOE: And what she's referring to there was Warren talking about all of those nondisclosure agreements that Bloomberg has with some of his former employees and about some insults he's accused of making against women. Voters I talked to were saying that they could get past those complaints about Bloomberg, but they want him to be able to respond better to these attacks.
SHAPIRO: Bloomberg has spent so much money on ads that are very slick, highly produced. How does he sound when he is out campaigning in person?
RASCOE: He seems pretty reserved, especially when you compare that to some of the ads in social media that you see from his team. He does sprinkle jokes throughout his remarks, but he is not always very smooth with his delivery, and he trips over his words at times. And the event today was fairly quick and to the point. And the people I talked to were happy with that.
But it seems like the way that people are really getting to know Bloomberg is through these ads, and the people that I talked to says that's how they're learning about him. It's striking that even now, after this debate, his campaign is circulating this video of the debate that's edited in a way to make it look like Bloomberg had this big moment where he stumped the other candidates, but that didn't actually happen. And some Democrats are complaining that this type of video and this kind of reframing is deceptive.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe with former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg in Utah.
Thank you very much, Ayesha.
RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.