WASHINGTON - Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's name is not on any of the ballots for the first four U.S. Democratic presidential nominating contests, and he has yet to qualify for the candidates' next debate on Wednesday night.
But it is Bloomberg who has quickly become a key figure in the Democratic contest, rising to third in national political surveys of Democratic voters behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Bloomberg has also become the target of stinging barbs from his fellow Democratic rivals, as well as Trump, who mocked him last week as a "mass of dead energy," and calling him "Mini Mike" for his short stature.
In turn, Bloomberg called Trump "a carnival barking clown," adding, "Where I come from, we measure your height from the neck up."
Democratic opponents have accused Bloomberg, said to be worth $62 billion, of trying to buy the party nomination.
Bloomberg reportedly has spent nearly $400 million of his own money on a wide array of campaign ads, and has hired hundreds of campaign workers ahead of the March 3 voting in 14 states, known as Super Tuesday, when he will be on the ballot.
Bloomberg accumulated his wealth as the founder of his eponymous business information company and also the Bloomberg News website.
A late entrant in the Democratic race, he is skipping the four February contests, including Saturday's caucuses in the western state of Nevada.
Sanders, a self-declared democratic socialist, has increasingly attacked Bloomberg, who was New York's mayor from 2002 to 2013.
"Mayor Bloomberg, with all his money, will not create the kind of excitement and energy we need to have the voter turnout we must have to defeat Donald Trump," Sanders said at one rally.
Sanders attacked Bloomberg's "racist" policy of "stop-and-frisk" arrests of people in high-crime New York neighborhoods when he was mayor, a policy Bloomberg has apologized for as he runs for president.
'Stop and frisk'
A 2015 recording surfaced last week of Bloomberg saying the best way to reduce gun violence among young, minority men was to "throw them up against a wall and frisk them."
Bloomberg acknowledged over the weekend, "I've gotten a lot of grief for (stop and frisk) lately, but I defended it for too long, and because I didn't fully understand the unintentional pain it caused young black and brown kids and their families. I should have acted sooner, and I should have stopped it. I didn't, and I apologized for that."
Biden, on NBC's "Meet the Press" news program Sunday, said, "Sixty billion dollars can buy you a lot of advertising, but it can't erase your record."
On the same show, another presidential contender, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, said, "He just can't hide behind the airwaves. I can't beat him on the airwaves, but I can beat him on the debate stage, and I think people of America deserve that to make a decision."
Bloomberg said he will participate in the Wednesday debate in Nevada if he qualifies. He lacks one poll out of the four needed that shows him with at least 10% support of Democratic voters.
Bloomberg has also drawn new scrutiny by major U.S. news outlets. Over the weekend, The Washington Post published a lengthy story of Bloomberg's profane, sexist and misogynist comments targeting women who worked at his financial services company.
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told the "Fox News Sunday" show, "The way Michael Bloomberg treated employees - female employees, who were under his wing, who were relying on him for their livelihoods, for their health benefits, for their 401ks - to have created that kind of culture, that unsafe workplace, to feel like you're being harassed because of your gender, that is problematic. I think you're going to hear more of it."
The Bloomberg campaign denied some of the quotes attributed to him in the newspaper story, while the candidate offered a more general comment on his attitude toward professional women in the workplace.
"I've depended on their leadership, their advice and their contributions," he wrote on Twitter. "As I've demonstrated throughout my career, I will always be a champion for women in the workplace."
As for the sudden spate of attacks, the Bloomberg campaign was dismissive.
"It's not surprising that as Mike continues to rise in the polls, other candidates, including Donald Trump, start to get nervous," it said.