- President Donald Trump says he would rather face Mike Bloomberg than Bernie Sanders in November's general election.
- As Democrats vote in New Hampshire's primary, the president says Sanders has "real followers" while Bloomberg is "buying" his way into contention.
Many New Hampshire voters are mulling Tuesday which Democratic presidential hopeful can beat President Donald Trump.
The question is also on the president's mind.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., leads polls of Tuesday's New Hampshire primary as he gains traction nationally. As former Vice President Joe Biden falters, billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has climbed in national surveys, fueled by spending tens of millions of dollars of his fortune.
Trump, during a rambling criticism of Bloomberg's 2015 comments that defended his city's stop-and-frisk policing practice with racist stereotypes, said unprompted that he would rather face the businessman than the Vermont senator. He pointed to Sanders' devoted supporters, who fueled an insurgent challenge to former secretary of State and senator Hillary Clinton in 2016.
"Frankly, I'd rather run against Bloomberg than Bernie Sanders," the president told reporters at the White House. "Because Sanders has real followers, whether you like him or not, whether you agree with him or not. I happen to think it's terrible what he says. But he has followers. Bloomberg's just buying his way in."
As Democrats consider who to put up against Trump in November's general election, many voters say they have thought most about who has the best chance to oust the president. NBC News exit polls of New Hampshire on Tuesday found 62% of Democrats would rather see a nominee who can beat Trump, while 34% would prefer a candidate who agrees with them.
Trump has also kept a close eye on the field. Supporters of Biden, who has run a campaign around his ability to defeat Trump, have repeatedly said Trump asked Ukraine to investigate the former vice president and his son Hunter because he feared facing Biden in November. Trump's push for a probe sat at the center of the House's decision to impeach him, and the Senate acquitted the president last week.
At the same time, Sanders' rivals including Biden have contended the senator, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist who has pushed for a vast expansion of the social safety net, would struggle to beat Trump. Sanders has fought that characterization, telling supporters in New Hampshire on Monday night that he can win because "our agenda speaks to the pain of the working families of this country."
It's not just Trump who has focused more on Bloomberg recently. Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., both criticized their opponent in the final days of the New Hampshire primary as an example of the corrosive influence of money in politics.
Trump sent, then deleted, a tweet Tuesday calling Bloomberg a "TOTAL RACIST" after his 2015 comments surfaced. In the remarks, the former New York mayor said most murderers and murder victims "fit one M.O. — you could just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male, minorities 15 to 25 [years old]."
Bloomberg released a statement Tuesday saying "this issue and my comments about it do not reflect my commitment to criminal justice reform and racial equality." It later issued another statement from African-American faith leaders with whom he met Tuesday, who said, "None of us believe that Mike Bloomberg is a racist."