Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and billionaire businessman, has been privately weighing a bid for the White House for weeks and has not yet made a final decision on whether to run, an adviser said. But in the first sign that he is seriously moving toward a campaign, Bloomberg has dispatched staffers to Alabama to gather signatures to qualify for the primary there. Although Alabama does not hold an early primary, it has a Friday deadline for candidates to formally enter the race.
Bloomberg and his advertisers called a number of prominent Democrats on Thursday to tell them he was seriously considering the race, including former Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the retired majority leader who remains a dominant power broker in the early caucus state. Aides to Bloomberg also reached out to Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island, chair of the Democratic Governors Association.
Reid said in a brief interview that Bloomberg had not explicitly said he was running for president but that the implication of the call had been clear. “It wasn’t just to wish me a good weekend,” Reid said.
Bloomberg has prepared to enter presidential races before, in 2016 and then earlier this year, only to pull back in the end. In those flirtations with the presidency, Bloomberg has never taken the step of filing to put his name on a state ballot.
Should Bloomberg proceed with a campaign, it could cause a seismic disruption in the Democratic race. With his immense personal wealth, centrist views and close ties to the political establishment, he would present an instantaneous threat to former Vice President Joe Biden, who has been struggling to raise money and assemble an ideologically moderate coalition.
Bloomberg, 77, initially bowed out of the 2020 race because of Biden’s apparent strength, but he has since grown skeptical that Biden is on track to win the Democratic nomination, and he does not see the two leading liberals in the race, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., as strong candidates for the general election.
But Bloomberg would face a difficult path in a Democratic primary largely defined so far by debates about economic inequality. His presence in the race would offer fodder to the party’s rising populist wing, led by Warren and Sanders, who contend that the extremely rich already wield far too much influence in politics. He is a former Republican who registered as a Democrat before the midterm elections last year. And his mayoral record, including his support for stop-and-frisk policing and his championing of charter schools, has the potential to alienate pillars of the Democratic Party’s political base.
Warren, who has sparred from afar with Bloomberg over her proposals to tax the extremely rich, needled him in a tweet Thursday by pointing out an online calculator showing how much billionaires would pay under her tax proposals. She called his potential candidacy “another example of the wealthy wanting our government and economy to only work for themselves,” while her campaign sent out a blistering fundraising email accusing Bloomberg of trying to “buy the presidency.”
Faiz Shakir, Sanders’ campaign manager, signaled the stiff resistance Bloomberg would face if he joined the race. “More billionaires seeking more political power surely isn’t the change America needs,” Shakir said in an email.
Howard Wolfson, a close adviser to Bloomberg, said Thursday that the former mayor has grown uneasy about the existing trajectory of the Democratic primary. He said Bloomberg viewed President Donald Trump as an “unprecedented threat to our nation” and noted the Democrat’s heavy spending in the 2018 midterm elections and this week’s off-year races in Virginia.
“We now need to finish the job and ensure that Trump is defeated — but Mike is increasingly concerned that the current field of candidates is not well positioned to do that,” Wolfson said. “If Mike runs, he would offer a new choice to Democrats built on a unique record running America’s biggest city, building a business from scratch and taking on some of America’s toughest challenges as a high-impact philanthropist.”
Advisers to Bloomberg said he would likely make up his mind about the race within days, rather than weeks.
He will have to move quickly if he is to compete in a serious way for the Democratic nomination. Beyond Alabama, several other states have filing deadlines in quick succession, including Arkansas and New Hampshire, with its crucial early primary.
Bloomberg petitioners were on the campus of the University of Alabama on Thursday, a Democratic strategist said, and officials with the Arkansas Democratic Party said they had been contacted by a Washington, D.C., law firm Thursday to seek detailed information about the state’s filing procedures. The firm had not named Bloomberg as its client, stirring speculation in the state party that the surprise candidate might be Hillary Clinton.
Michael John Gray, chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party, said Bloomberg’s financial might would make him an important wild card in the race.
“It shakes things up, obviously,” Gray said of a potential Bloomberg campaign.
A Fox News poll found in late October that Bloomberg would face more opposition than enthusiasm at the outset of a primary campaign: Presented with Bloomberg as a hypothetical entrant into the primary, 6% of Democratic primary voters said they would definitely support him, while 32% said they would never vote for him.
While some of Bloomberg’s longtime advisers have committed to a campaign, including pollster Doug Schoen and ad-maker Bill Knapp, he would have to build a campaign from zero in the early-primary and caucus states, and he may have a hard time qualifying for either of the two remaining debates this year.
In a Democratic race, Bloomberg would face a battery of complicated questions about his political ideology and governing record. He has been a vigorous advocate for core liberal causes, like gun control and battling climate change. But as mayor, Bloomberg also championed police searches that targeted black and Latino men; in an interview last fall, he defended his administration’s stop-and-frisk policing strategy.
In the same interview, Bloomberg also expressed skepticism about the #MeToo movement in general, as well as the specific allegations of sexual misconduct against Charlie Rose, the disgraced anchor who for many years broadcast his show from the offices of Bloomberg’s media company.
Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina, said in an interview that he spoke with Bloomberg in late October, and the two discussed the unfolding presidential race. Benjamin, a Democrat who has not taken sides in the primary, predicted Bloomberg’s background as a businessman and mayor, and his stances on climate and guns, would make him a formidable contender if he runs.
“There’s a lot of work to be done in gearing up for the first four primaries and caucuses, and certainly for Super Tuesday, but I would caution anybody not to underestimate Mike Bloomberg,” Benjamin said.
Raimondo, the Rhode Island governor, stopped short of backing Bloomberg as a presidential candidate but issued a glowing statement about his record.
“While this is not an endorsement, Michael Bloomberg is a friend, and I admire his track record as a successful business leader and mayor who finds practical solutions to some of America’s biggest challenges, from creating good jobs to addressing the opioid crisis and fighting for common-sense gun safety,” Raimondo said.
But several likely Iowa caucusgoers, in interviews Thursday night at an event for another candidate — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. — expressed a lack of enthusiasm for a potential Bloomberg candidacy.
“This is a rigorous thing, to run for political office,” said Janny Miller, 65, of Des Moines, Iowa. “For somebody to step in late — while he probably has a lot to offer — maybe it’s not the right thing to do.”
Even if Bloomberg enters the race almost immediately, it would likely be impossible for him to qualify for the next debate Nov. 20. The deadline is just six days away, and he would need 165,000 unique donors and four polls showing him at 3% or higher (or two early-state polls at 5%). There may not even be four qualifying polls released in the next six days, and those that will be released may already be underway without Bloomberg’s name.
For the December debate, he would need 200,000 unique donors and four polls showing him at 4% or higher, or two early-state polls at 6%. The deadline for meeting that threshold is Dec. 12.
Although Bloomberg could still opt against running, even his preliminary steps toward a campaign may come as a blow to Biden, who has been counting on strong support from centrist Democrats, traditional party donors and much of the business community to carry him forward in the race.
When Bloomberg previously announced in March that he would not run for president, advisers indicated the decision was shaped in part by Biden’s strong popularity with Democratic primary voters. But Biden’s position in the race is evidently no longer imposing enough to keep Bloomberg at bay.
As of late afternoon Thursday, Bloomberg had not spoken with Biden about his updated plans, an adviser to Bloomberg said.
Aides to Biden did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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