Mike Bloomberg is having an impact.
After spending more than $35 million, he has pulled ahead of…Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, both at 2 percent. And Harris dropped out Tuesday.
I don’t see a cause and effect, though Harris ran out of money and took a parting shot at billionaires. Her campaign, overseen by her sister, had been flailing for a long time, as advance obits in the New York Times and Washington Post made clear. Harris kept changing positions, attacking rivals and retreating, playing up and playing down her prosecutor past, unable to carve out space in a crowded field. And that had nothing to do with Bloomberg, though he could benefit by picking up some of her staff.
The former New York mayor is at 6 percent in the latest Hill poll, trailing Joe Biden with 31 percent, Bernie at 15, the fading Elizabeth at 10, and the rising Mayor Pete at 9. Not exactly an earthquake.
I don’t understand the campaign that Bloomberg is running. (And that’s putting aside the dumb decision by his news service to not investigate the boss. That enabled the president, whose campaign has yanked Bloomberg News credentials, to tweet: “Mini Mike Bloomberg has instructed his third rate news organization not to investigate him or any Democrat, but to go after President Trump, only. The Failing New York Times thinks that is O.K., because their hatred & bias is so great they can’t even see straight. It’s not O.K.!”)
Bloomberg has his strengths, including his 12-year tenure as mayor, although that contains ample ammunition to alienate Democratic liberals. But he remains a remote figure for many American voters. And yet he isn’t doing the things you’d expect an eleventh-hour contender to do.
He hasn’t given major policy speeches. He hasn’t made the television rounds—not the Sunday shows or daytime cable shows or prime-time opinion shows. He hasn’t done a lengthy interview with a major newspaper.
In short, people haven’t heard his voice, except in paid commercials in which he approves this message. That’s an especially big vacuum since, by funding his own campaign, he won’t be included in the debates. And it’s exacerbated by his decision to skip Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, a maneuver that has never worked.
I don’t think he can spend his way to the nomination. He’s got to get in the batter’s box and show he can hit the pitching.
When Bloomberg launched his campaign in Norfolk, he told reporters that “I know how to win because I’ve done it time and again,” touting his advocacy on climate change, gun control, smoking and education.
Politico Magazine has a how-he-can-win piece that begins with the Beltway/Twitter take “that this is little more than a vanity run for the presidency—a play for the political affinities of the pundit class on the Acela corridor, a low-energy answer to a question no Democrat is asking. Bloomberg is, as he puts it himself, a short, Jewish, divorced billionaire from Manhattan. He is an avowed defender of Wall Street. He has been an apologist for #MeToo offenders. He oversaw a police department that stopped and frisked half a million primarily young men of color a year. Even putting all that aside, he is audaciously pledging to skip the first four primary states.”
The gist of the argument is that Bloomberg was a relative unknown when, a couple of weeks after 9/11 and with a tepid endorsement from Rudy Giuliani, he won the mayor’s office. Therefore don’t count him out.
But New York City is not America, which is why none of its mayors have ever come close to winning the White House.
The piece does sketch out an agenda: “It is easy to imagine him calling for filibuster reform, or strengthening voting rights, or even adding a Supreme Court justice. His comments over the past several years defending Wall Street have gotten him in trouble, but his aides point out that not only did Bloomberg raise taxes in a way that no other candidate in the field has, but he also built 185,000 units of affordable housing (a figure that essentially means building another South Bend, Indiana, and still having tens of thousands of housing units to spare), lowered the racial temperature in a city reeling from 9/11 and eight years of Giuliani, defended the right of Muslims to build a mosque near ground zero, drastically raised teacher pay, reduced the city’s prison population by 40 percent, mounted an aggressive anti-poverty campaign that recalculated the city’s poverty rate to allow more people to receive federal benefits, and spent $3.1 billion on new school construction.”
But Bloomberg himself should be making that case, not a Politico writer. Meanwhile, Bill de Blasio is “having a fit,” says another Politico piece, over Bloomberg’s candidacy. Having utterly flamed out in his own presidential bid, the mayor now spends considerable time attacking his predecessor.
De Blasio is quoted as saying “before his millions and millions of dollars of advertising ... we need an honest conversation about what really happened.” He also thinks Bloomberg gets better press, saying, “I think a lot of media outlets were literally worried he might buy them some day. And I think a lot of the leaders in those media outlets did not want to make waves or alienate him.”
Some allies say it helps de Blasio at home to remind people of his criticism of the former mayor, but in any event he can’t run again. The mayor may be 6’5, but this makes him look awfully small.
Bloomberg was in Mississippi Wednesday for a roundtable discussion on criminal justice reform—part of his effort to court minority voters after apologizing for his years of backing stop and frisk. But it’s late in the game for him to be doing the listening-tour thing.
Mike Bloomberg would have an outside shot if Biden’s campaign cratered, as the pundits endlessly predict it will. But as famous as the 77-year-old billionaire thinks he is, he needs to raise his profile fast, and that takes more than a bunch of slickly produced ads.