Issues & Insights

Bloomberg’s Rise Surprises Pundits — Will Trump Be Next?

When Michael Bloomberg entered the presidential race last November, he was scorned almost universally. Now, many Democrats hope desperately that he will be their savior, the only candidate who can prevail over Bernie Sanders, an ardent socialist they consider unelectable.

After fourth and fifth-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, Joe Biden is toast, as is Elizabeth Warren, following her distant third and fourth-place finishes.

Mayor Mike has rocketed into third place in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls, soon to pass plummeting Biden into second behind Sanders. This will set up a titanic civil war between Sandernistas and moderate to conservative Democrats.

None of this would have seemed remotely possible listening to political pundits last November. They dismissed Bloomberg’s bid, with several trite “truisms” about political tradecraft. First, money can’t buy the presidency. Second, his late entry would be fatal. Third, by skipping the first four contests, he would fall hopelessly behind. Fourth, his policy stands are all over the map, so he has no natural following or base.

Last November, few pundits stopped to think that, maybe, there was an obvious and compelling rationale for skipping the first four contests. To flip a popular saying: you can’t lose it if you’re not in it. Bloomberg has survived the first two contests. Other candidates? Sanders and Buttigieg, yes. They’ve shared two winner’s circles and they have money. Klobuchar, only briefly as the darling of the moment. She has little money. Forget Biden and Warren.

Moreover, with just 4% of all delegates available in the first four contests combined, it is axiomatic that no one can fall fatally behind.

Bloomberg hasn’t lost anything. Instead, he’s gained an enormous advantage: exclusive focus upon the one contest that really matters, Super Tuesday on March 3rd, when 14 states and more than 35% of delegates are at stake.  This contest is as fateful as the Ides of March.

Bloomberg has been running unopposed on this battleground for three months. Other candidates have been otherwise occupied.

So what has Bloomberg been doing? Consider this. Last month, The Texas Tribune reported that the Bloomberg campaign would have 150 staffers in the Lone Star State by January’s end. Early this month, the Bloomberg campaign announced that it had hired 300 staffers in California and planned 500 more in a matter of days.

Buttigieg just announced that he was sending 24 staffers to Texas on President’s Day. The difference in scale and timing is stunning.

What is even more stunning is Bloomberg’s dominance of the airwaves. It has been widely reported that Bloomberg has spent very nearly $400 million on TV ads so far, but there’s been little reported about other candidates’ spending – because there’s been virtually nothing to report. With the exception of the vanity campaign of billionaire Tom Steyer, only the Sanders campaign has spent more than one million outside of the first four primary states, according to data that Kantar/Campaign Media Analysis Group is providing Five Thirty Eight. Bloomberg has spent most of the $400 million in these states — more than $30 million each in California and in Texas.

Not only is Bloomberg fully prepared, not only has his ground game been in operation for quite some time, but no doubt he has hired the best, if not almost all, of the experienced political operatives and booked the best, if not virtually all, available ad time in Super Tuesday States – as other candidates may just now be discovering.

If you had Bloomberg’s money, wouldn’t you corner the market on talent and resources? This is the logistical side of politics. Remember the old saying that armchair warriors talk strategy, battle-tested generals talk logistics.

Other candidates have relied upon free media coverage, primarily the TV debates. On Wednesday, they will lose that relative advantage, as Bloomberg takes the stage in Las Vegas, where, admittedly, his debating skills and specific policy stands will be tested.

However, with Biden imploding, his large following of black voters is up for grabs. To whom will they gravitate: Mayor Mike, who enforced stop-and-frisk, or Mayor Pete, who fired the black chiefs of his police and fire departments and who all polls show to have miniscule black support, or Klobuchar whose constituency is amongst the whitest in the country?  

On experience, where will Democrats gravitate – to a three-term mayor of the country’s largest and most diverse city or a two-term mayor of a small town of about 100,000? Klobuchar? She has been positioning herself as an experienced hand in order to compete with Buttigieg, but that doesn’t play so well versus Bloomberg’s resume – with his deep political experience and his amazing business success building a new highly profitable media business from scratch.

Actually, there is only one issue for Democrats, and one issue only: beating Donald Trump. I know whom I’d pick if I were a Democrat: someone with tens of billions, a highly competent executive, and a three times winner in a city with an electorate much bigger and far more diverse than the home states of all the other candidates and each of the first four primary states.

As for the civil war, the party will reconcile. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. The enemy of my worst enemy is my best friend.  

It is amazing that the Democrats have taken so long to take Bloomberg seriously. As a Republican, I hope the president hasn’t ignored Bloomberg. After all, the same logic that makes Mayor Mike the strongest Democratic primary candidate makes him a truly formidable opponent in November.

Red Jahncke is president of The Townsend Group International, a business consulting firm in Connecticut.

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