The Bernie Sanders campaign lashed out at a “smear campaign” over the candidate’s prior heart attack just hours before a vicious debate in Nevada.
In a sign of drama to come, Sanders spokeswoman Briahna Joy Gray deflected questions about Sanders’ health and claimed that his rival, Mike Bloomberg, had also previously suffered a heart attack, the Washington Examiner reported. Gray later said she “misspoke,” but the Bloomberg campaign didn’t miss an opportunity to accuse the Sanders camp of spreading a “Trumpy lie.”
Sanders campaign slams rival
When word of Sanders’ heart attack emerged in October, it prompted speculation that his campaign was over, but the 78-year-old recovered after having heart surgery in Las Vegas. The candidate, amazingly, went on to become the clear front runner in the Democratic primary, but questions about his health shadowed the hours before his return to Sin City.
The elephant in the room at the debate was Bloomberg’s introduction to the stage, which followed a $400 million advertising blitz and a late rise in the polls. The candidate’s surge sent a ripple of alarm and anger through the crowded field of candidates, particularly Sanders, a self-avowed socialist and enemy of the “billionaire class.”
The Bloomberg–Sanders feud touched on the topic of the candidates’ health status after Sanders, at a CNN town hall, said that his campaign would not disclose any further health information concerning his heart attack. Sanders released three letters last year from his doctors attesting to his good health in spite of the heart attack.
Pressed by CNN’s John Berman on Wednesday, Gray said that Sanders was being unfairly targeted and claimed that the media was ignoring heart attacks that Bloomberg had suffered. “It’s really telling given that none of the same concern is being demonstrated for Michael Bloomberg, who is the same age as Bernie Sanders, who has suffered heart attacks in the past,” she said.
Bloomberg team hits back
Bloomberg has an irregular heartbeat, and he did receive two stents twenty years ago, but he did not suffer a heart attack. Gray later corrected herself, saying she “misspoke,” but the Bloomberg camp came out swinging.
“This is such a Trumpy lie from the Sanders camp, which rolls like Trump in many ways,” Tim O’Brien, a senior adviser to Bloomberg’s campaign, said in a tweet. “Mike Bloomberg has *never* had a heart attack. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has had a heart attack. Those are the facts. It’s a dangerous time when Sanders goes all in with Trumpism.”
Health questions shadow debate
The back-and-forth foreshadowed a wild free-for-all in Las Vegas that evening. The candidates launched highly personal attacks on each other, with Bloomberg taking the brunt of the hits. The billionaire struggled to defend himself against challenging questions from moderators and repeated attacks from his five rivals on a range of topics, from stop-and-frisk to his treatment of women.
When the debate turned to the topic of “transparency,” Sanders was again pushed on his health records. Sanders thanked Las Vegas for the “excellent care” he received and suggested in his answer that he would not release any more records. He promptly mentioned Bloomberg’s stents, to which Bloomberg curtly replied, “Twenty-five years ago.”
The introduction of Bloomberg into the debate made for a natural foil to Sanders, who was assailed on all sides over his socialistic policies, particularly Medicare for All. Bloomberg defended capitalism and all but called Sanders a communist as well as a hypocrite, noting that he’s a millionaire who owns three homes.
The senator from Vermont had a strong night overall, something that cannot be said of Bloomberg. In spite of health questions, Sanders is still the front runner by any reckoning.