Photo: John Locher/AP

Mike Bloomberg was booed during his debut debate as a Democratic presidential candidate — indicative of a rusty outing where the former New York mayor looked unprepared to respond to obvious lines of attack.

Why it matters ... The debate underscored the Bloomberg’s campaign biggest fear: It's hard to hide to his prickly demeanor. Bloomberg had all the time, practice and forewarning money could buy — and still struggled mightily on the public stage. 

  • But it'd be foolish to assume blanket ads can't undo the damage. Elizabeth Warren said on MSNBC: "I have no doubt that he is about to drop, tonight, another hundred million dollars on his campaign ... in order to try to erase America’s memory of what happened on that debate stage."

Warren drew cheers when she challenged Bloomberg to release women from "nondisclosure agreements both for sexual harassment and for gender discrimination in the workplace."

  • Bloomberg: "We have a very few nondisclosure agreements."
  • Warren: "How many is that?"
  • Bloomberg: "Let me finish."
  • Warren: "How many is that?"
  • Bloomberg: "None of them accuse me of doing anything, other than maybe they didn't like a joke I told. ... They signed the agreements and that's what we're going to live with."

The audience booed when Bloomberg later said: "I've said we're not going ... to end these agreements because they were made consensually, and they have every right to expect that they will stay private."

  • Warren provoked the moment of the debate when she said: "I'd like to talk about who we're running against — a billionaire who calls women 'fat broads' and 'horse-faced lesbians.' And, no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg."

Bloomberg replied: "I have no tolerance for the kind of behavior that the #MeToo movement has exposed.  And anybody that does anything wrong in our company, we investigate it, and if it's appropriate, they're gone that day."

  • Warren jabbed back: "I hope you heard what his defense was: I've been nice to some women. That just doesn't cut it."

Between the lines: The debate left Bernie Sanders firmly in control of the race headed into Super Tuesday on March 3.

  • Bloomberg's campaign has warned — and other top Democrats agree — that with no disruption in the race, Sanders could quickly accumulate an insurmountable delegate lead.  
  • Robert Gibbs, who was White House press secretary under President Obama, said on MSNBC's postgame show: "A lot of the candidates were focused on Bloomberg. And if they do that too much, the polls will close in California in a little less than two weeks, and they’ll see Bernie with a lead that's ultimately insurmountable — something they can’t catch."

The bottom line ... Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg's top strategist, said in a post-debate statement: "He was just warming up tonight."

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