Bloomberg Battling for Moderate Democrats in Super Tuesday Showdown

(CN) — Billionaire, philanthropist, former New York mayor and Democratic presidential hopeful Mike Bloomberg is optimistic ahead of Super Tuesday, when voters in 14 states cast their ballots.

One of the richest people in the world, Bloomberg has said his campaign is an effort to oust President Donald Trump from office using an undeniably powerful currency: cash. He’s running as a moderate in the Democratic presidential primary and now faces off with former Vice President Joe Biden for the party’s less liberal vote.

Democratic presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg speaks during a Feb. 20, 2020, campaign event in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, also a moderate, abruptly departed the race Sunday following the South Carolina primary, citing a desire not to further divide the party, acknowledging that Democrats’ defeat of President Trump is his top priority.

Bloomberg’s late entry into the race shouldn’t be confused with a lack of desire to win, experts say, and he has sworn to continue his campaign regardless of the Super Tuesday outcome. Polls have him placing second or third in Texas and third in North Carolina, Virginia, and Massachusetts.

“I think Mike Bloomberg, as he said in [the last] debate … he’s been praying for this job for a long time,” said Ravi Perry, professor and chair of the political science department at Howard University, in a phone interview.

Bloomberg, who entered the race last November, essentially bought his way to a strong start by spending over half a billion dollars in advertising by Feb. 24, according to his own news company. He dropped on average $5.6 million on ads per day, the reporters found.

Though Bloomberg had just 3% support when he joined the race, he now sits at fourth in the polls at 12%, behind lefty leader Bernie Sanders, Biden, and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

“He has a fantastic team and terrific ads. If that was all it took to become president, he’d be in great shape,” said Alexandra Acker-Lyons, a longtime political consultant and commentator, of Bloomberg in a phone interview last week.

While Boomberg struggled in his first televised debate, his performance improved in the next one, Acker-Lyons said.

“He doesn’t have good answers to predictable questions, and … is used to having his own way. He is used to being an executive, and is used to being the CEO,” she said.

When asked how Bloomberg could perform poorly given his stellar team and questions he could prepare for, Acker-Lyons did not mince words.

“It’s him,” she said, later adding: “You can give someone the best advice in the world, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to take it.”

Acker-Lyons said she does not think Bloomberg has shown what she called “that intangible presidential something.”

Howard University’s Perry, however, pointed out that Bloomberg, and moderate Buttigieg, have at least one advantage with some black voters.

“I think while Warren and Sanders have a message that resonates with African-Americans, African-Americans are also pragmatic in that they want to see material and improved conditions of their lives day to day,” Perry said.

“And it is often mayors that do that kind of bread-and-butter kind of work every day. So people like Bloomberg know how to do that. People like Buttigieg know how to do that.”

Bloomberg served three terms as New York City mayor, from 2002 to 2013.

He’s counting in part on Virginia, which holds an open primary, meaning anyone can vote for any party. A Feb. 18 poll showed him tied at the top there with Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, though the same poll showed that just one in four Virginia voters was firmly set on their choice.

Bloomberg has faced widespread criticism both for his “stop-and-frisk” policy as New York mayor and for his comments about, and nondisclosure agreements with, women at his company who complained of sexual misconduct.

After facing intense scrutiny during his first debate Feb. 19 over nondisclosure agreements used to quiet female accusers over the years, Bloomberg said two days later that any individual who wishes to speak out should come forward.

“I’ve had the company go back over its record and they’ve identified three NDAs that we signed over the past 30-plus years with women to address complaints about comments they said I had made,” Bloomberg said in a statement.

“If any of them want to be released from their NDA so that they can talk about those allegations, they should contact the company and they’ll be given a release.”

Howard University’s Perry noted that he’s intrigued by the timing of Bloomberg’s entry into the race — during what was at the time a Buttigieg surge and a Biden decline. He said it could indicate disagreements among the party’s moderate wing about who should be its representative, and perhaps the “conservative nature of older comrades” who might doubt an openly gay man like Buttigieg is electable, he said.

Acker-Lyons, the political consultant, said she thinks Bloomberg’s entry into the race has been a good thing for Democrats overall.

“His ads targeting Trump have been, in some cases, the only negative ads against Trump anywhere,” she said. “He has a very strong digital presence, which I think is hugely important this cycle. He is talking about issues like gun safety and climate change that are important to Democratic voters.”

Perry agreed.

“Either way, whether he wins or not, having him in the race and the ad buy he’s been able to do has contributed to the context of the breadth of the Democratic Party in terms of its ideological leanings,” he said.

However, he added it won’t benefit Democrats to have Bloomberg for too long among the cacophony of voices — much of which, he said, is more political theater than informed context.

“A lot of people, frankly, tune out as a result of that,” he said.

Political scientist Matthew Lacombe, co-author of “Billionaires and Stealth Politics,” said it kind of looks like Bloomberg has been planning this run for a while.

“It looks like there’s some strategy…he strategically deployed what seems like philanthropy for his political gain,” said Lacombe, also a professor at Barnard College at Columbia University.

“I do not think he actually wants Trump to be president,” said Lacombe. “I think he does believe there’s a chance he could be president himself, but I think he also wants to stop someone like Bernie Sanders from becoming president.”

All three experts think Bloomberg would make good on his promise to financially back whomever becomes the Democratic nominee.

“I don’t know why someone would spend tens of millions of his own money if they weren’t really interested in getting rid of this president,” said Perry.

If the nominee is Sanders or Warren, Acker-Lyons predicted, there might be a little more nuance to Bloomberg’s pledge, perhaps more anti-Trump spending than pro-Democratic candidate spending. But she suspects he’ll back down-ballot races.

Lacombe agreed.

“I don’t think he’ll back down on that promise, but I guess there’s a lot of discretion left in that promise,” said Lacombe.

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