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Sinclair Broadcast Group: Can Mike Bloomberg win? Experts say Democrats shouldn’t count him out

Article: Can Mike Bloomberg win? Experts say Democrats shouldn’t count him out
by Stephen Loiaconi | Friday, January 17th 2020 (https://wjla.com/news/connect-to-congress/can-mike-bloomberg-win-experts-say-democrats-shouldnt-count-him-out)

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) — As six leading Democratic presidential candidates met for a pivotal debate in Iowa Tuesday night, a very different debate was taking place on Michael Bloomberg’s official campaign Twitter account.

“WHICH @pitbull SONG SHOULD PRESIDENT BLOOMBERG ENTER A ROOM TO INSTEAD OF ‘HAIL TO THE CHIEF’??” the campaign asked its followers in one of a series of bizarre tweets that also included a picture of the former New York City mayor’s face superimposed on the side of a meatball and a promise to mail supporters a scoop of Bloomberg’s homemade guacamole.

It was an odd moment for an unusual campaign that is eschewing much of the traditional retail politicking of the early Democratic primaries to instead test the limits of how far spending a ton of money can get one of the richest men in the country in a crowded race with no clear frontrunner.

“He’s betting on a number of things breaking his way, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they will,” said Tom Whalen, a presidential historian at Boston University and author of “JFK and His Enemies: A Portrait of Power.”

Bloomberg has already spent more than $200 million on campaign ads. He has hired a staff of 1,000 across the country. He has a long record of success in business and politics. He has a vast media empire under his control. His $66 billion fortune gives him a virtually unlimited war chest. And he is now steadily polling in fifth place nationally.

According to Democratic strategist Bradley Honan, ignoring or dismissing Bloomberg would be a mistake, not just because of the enormous amount of money he is spending but because of the sophisticated way he is spending it. Bloomberg built his fortune on data, and he has launched a new data firm to support his campaign that is doing unconventional but potentially effective work.

“There’s a moonshot effort going on around political data and organizing that they’re undertaking,” Honan said.

Since he is not contesting Iowa and New Hampshire, Bloomberg has spent the last week campaigning in places like Texas, California, and New York, as well as pitching himself to Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill in person. That has left him off his opponents’ radar while they battle among themselves to claim the first victories of the campaign.

“He’s doing slow, methodical building of an operation, a message, and a base,” Whalen said. “We’re not going to see the full extent of this until Super Tuesday… He’s not in their sights right now. He’s not an immediate threat.”

One person who does seem to be concerned about Bloomberg is President Donald Trump, who has tweeted several complaints this week about the ads “Mini Mike” is running against him. He falsely accused Bloomberg of lying about his health care policy in an ad that accurately stated Trump is trying to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, including its protections for patients with pre-existing conditions.

“Mini Mike Bloomberg ads are purposely wrong – A vanity project for him to get into the game,” Trump said Friday.

Bloomberg will continue taking the fight to Trump with a 60-second Super Bowl ad that is reportedly costing him about $10 million—more than most Democratic candidates have spent on TV ads in the whole campaign. Trump is running an ad during the Feb. 2 game, as well.

“The biggest point is getting under Trump’s skin,” a Bloomberg campaign spokesman told The New York Times last week of the decision to run the Super Bowl ad.

For much of 2019, Bloomberg said he would stay out of the 2020 race as long as Democrats were on track to nominate someone he believed could beat Trump. In November, with former Vice President Joe Biden struggling to energize voters and left-leaning candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren gaining traction, he changed his mind and launched a campaign aimed at rallying a broad and diverse coalition of supporters.

“I know how to take on the powerful special interests that corrupt Washington,” Bloomberg said in his campaign announcement. “And I know how to win – because I’ve done it, time and again. I will be the only candidate in this race who isn’t going to take a penny from anyone and will work for a dollar a year.”

Since entering the race, Bloomberg has massively outspent everyone else in the field, dropping nearly $220 million on ads across the country. There is evidence the advertising push is working to expand his base, and he is spending millions more on staffing and campaign infrastructure, but he remains far behind the top tier of candidates.

Bloomberg picked up his third congressional endorsement Friday from Rep. Harley Rouda, a California businessman who flipped a red House seat in 2018 with Bloomberg’s support. Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., and Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., co-chair of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition, announced they are backing Bloomberg earlier this week.

“Like myself, Mike Bloomberg believes in smart capitalism coupled with good government. He has the ability to not only beat Donald Trump but, more importantly, to bring our country together, and restore America to its place as the leader of the free world,” Rouda said in a statement.

While the rest of the field frets over Iowa, Bloomberg is looking ahead to March, building a national campaign apparatus, and spending big in states like Texas and Pennsylvania where his opponents have neither the time or the resources to compete. This is partly by necessity, having missed ballot deadlines for early states by entering the race late, but also strategic, flooding the airwaves in delegate-rich states that vote later in the process.

Others have tried to put all their chips on Super Tuesday in the past and failed, but this time could be different. Changes to the primary calendar have put even more delegates up for grabs early on, and the race could still be wide open in early March, especially if Biden’s support starts to crumble between now and then.

It is true that many moderate candidates have already come and gone waiting fruitlessly for Biden’s campaign to collapse. Bloomberg has the money to keep waiting, though, and the next month could prove damaging for the former vice president.

Some recent polls show Biden slipping out of the top three in Iowa, and finishing fourth or worse there and then losing to Sanders in New Hampshire would undermine his electability argument. After a weak debate performance earlier this week, Honan said Biden looks vulnerable.

“I watched the debate and I didn’t see that there was a widespread level of support for Vice President Biden on social media,” he said. “It’s not clear what his message or his rationale is. I think if you just looked at the debate, you wouldn’t conclude Biden is the frontrunner.”

Biden is also a central player in the events surrounding President Trump’s impeachment, with Trump pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden’s actions as vice president and his son’s business dealings. The Senate impeachment trial will thrust Trump’s allegations against the Bidens back into the spotlight for weeks, and a possibility remains that Biden or his son could even have to testify.

It is not clear where Biden’s centrist supporters would go if they lose faith in him, but the progressive wing of the party is also at risk of fracturing amid tensions between Sanders and Warren. Democrats had long, drawn-out primary fights in 2008 and 2016, and this year’s nominee conceivably might not be chosen until the Democratic National Convention in July. Bloomberg could collect enough delegates to make a serious play there.

“He might not have been exactly what [Democrats] had in mind, but by Super Tuesday he’ll look like Brad Pitt,” political columnist John Ellis wrote last week in a Washington Post op-ed that predicted Bloomberg would eventually become mainstream Democrats’ “dream candidate” to prevent a Sanders nomination.

Others would not go quite so far, but they do say Bloomberg is looking more viable now than he did a month ago as none of the top candidates have managed to lock down a commanding lead and doubts linger about any of them being able to defeat Trump in a strong economy.

President Trump has a good reason to worry about Bloomberg. Experts say he would make a formidable general election opponent for the president: a centrist with governing experience and the resources to match Trump’s campaign machine. A betting market analysis obtained by CNBC earlier this week found betters view Bloomberg as the Democrat most likely to beat Trump in November.

“He has basically the same strengths Trump has politically, and Trump can’t call him a crazy socialist,” Whalen said. “I think that’s what scares the Trump folks.”

An EPIC-MRA poll of likely Michigan voters released Wednesday found Bloomberg holding the biggest lead of any Democrat over Trump head-to-head with a seven-point advantage. However, the same poll showed his favorability the lowest among Democratic candidates at 26%, with an unfavorability rating of 34% and 24% still undecided.

“This is why @realDonaldTrump is so worried about Mike. We beat Trump by the widest margin in his must win state,” Bloomberg adviser Howard Wolfson tweeted in response to the poll.

A national IBD/TIPP poll posted earlier this week showed Biden and Bloomberg both edging out Trump by two points. Most major national primary surveys since Christmas have put Bloomberg in fifth place or better among Democratic voters and he is currently averaging 6.6%, according to RealClearPolitics, less than a point behind South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and ahead of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, and Andrew Yang.

Bloomberg, 77, undoubtedly has weaknesses too. His record as mayor includes support for controversial stop-and-frisk policing practices and an unpopular effort to control New Yorkers’ soda consumption. Questions have been raised about treatment of women at his companies and his history of degrading and offensive comments. Critics have also accused him of trying to buy the nomination, and he will not have to file his financial disclosure forms until March 20.

Those are all things other Democratic candidates might challenge Bloomberg on if they had the chance, but they might never share a stage with him. He has not participated in any debates and is not likely to qualify for any future ones unless the rules change.

Though Bloomberg has taken some heat for avoiding debates with fellow Democrats, he lays blame for his absence entirely on the Democratic National Committee, which made the number of donors a candidate has a factor in qualifying to participate. Bloomberg met the polling requirements for the January debate, but he is refusing to accept donations from anyone.

“I listen to people, but I don’t let people buy me,” he told Politico earlier this week.

Campaign finance reform advocates looking to reduce the influence of money in politics have been troubled by Bloomberg’s big spending out of his own pocket. End Citizens United warned his unwillingness to engage the grassroots could cost him in an election against a president with a large and passionate base.

“If people are self-funding and not doing as much on the grassroots fundraising side, that could be a challenge when you’re going up against the president in 2020,” the organization said in a statement. “End Citizens United has been in favor of making sure the campaigns are as grassroots funded as possible, not just because it curbs the influence of big money but because it puts the eventual nominee in the best position as possible to defeat the president.”

Bloomberg has said he is willing to spend up to $1 billion to defeat Trump, even if he is not the nominee. He plans to keep much of his staff and his campaign offices operational through November to support whoever wins the primaries.

If Bloomberg loses, his team would be prohibited from sharing information or coordinating with the nominee’s campaign. Still, the amount of money he would pour into the race and the strong data behind it would go a long way toward helping Democrats overcome Trump’s expected fundraising and advertising advantages.

“The biggest dynamic and the reality today is Trump is winning the internet war,” Honan said, and Bloomberg could help close that gap, whether he wins the nomination or not.

For now, though, Bloomberg insists he is in it to win it. Progressives may be uncomfortable with his wealth, but if it gives them a better chance to win in November, Whalen said many Democrats may be willing to learn to live with it.

“Bloomberg’s message will be: you might not like it, but I’m the best chance Democrats have to win back the White House over someone they despise,” he said.