NEW YORK, Dec 19 — Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is using his personal fortune to deploy a campaign starkly different from the rest of the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls, including skipping key states long toiled by less well-off rivals.
The former New York mayor was late to the election party, announcing his candidacy for the party nomination on November 24, months after frontrunners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
Bloomberg, who has a net worth of more than US$54 billion according to Forbes (compared to President Donald Trump’s US$3.1 billion), plans to play by a different set of rules to the other leading candidates, such as bypassing the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire which have been key to winning the nomination for decades.
The 77 year-old politician is spending heavily on online and TV ad campaigns while activating a wide network of mayors built up over the years through his commitment to the environment and through training programs for elected officials run by his Bloomberg Philanthropies foundation.
National polls suggest the strategy has merit. The founder of the media empire that shares his name is polling at an average of five per cent, putting him fifth out of the 15 Democratic candidates vying to take on Republican Trump in November 2020.
Centrist Biden and left-winger Sanders have around 27 and 19 per cent support respectively, while Senator Elizabeth Warren is third with 15 per cent and Pete Buttigieg fourth with eight per cent.
Bloomberg has ambitious plans for gun control and the climate, but he is also an economic conservative — unlike Warren and Sanders, who want to heavily tax the rich to reduce income disparities.
Analysts however are sceptical Bloomberg’s iconoclastic battle plan.
“His strategy has virtually no chance,” Bruce Ackerman, professor of political science at Yale University, told AFP.
‘Old and tired’
Since 1972 no candidate has won the Democratic Party nomination without finishing among the top two finalists in party contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, the two small states where voters cast ballots in February.
Rather than fighting in those states, where his rivals have been building grassroots support for months, Bloomberg is focusing on the more than a dozen states which vote in the “Super Tuesday” contest on March 3.
These include California and Texas, the two states that will send the largest number of delegates to the party nominating convention in July.
As of late 2019 Bloomberg has spent as much on TV and radio advertising spots as all of the other candidates combined: approximately US$100 million, according to research company Advertising Analytics.
He has spent millions more on online ads as well, and his name is visible across sites such as Facebook and YouTube.
Bloomberg has hired more than 300 people to work for his campaign, including Gary Briggs, Facebook’s former chief marketing officer, who now leads the digital campaign vital to win voters.
Bloomberg finances his own campaign and does not need to mobilise thousands of donors, as his competitors do.
Money, however, is not everything.
Ackerman says that Bloomberg has not demonstrated organisation on the ground or a charismatic media presence, two elements he believes are key at this stage of the race.
“He is hiring all these people, but do they have the capacity to mobilise people to show up?” he asked.
Bloomberg has yet to arouse the fervour of activists across the country, and is not eligible to take part in today’s Democratic debate because he doesn’t have the required number of donors. Those rules may change in the future.
Instead he has garnered the support of ten mayors in various states, including Steve Benjamin, a respected African-American mayor from South Carolina.
‘Stop and frisk’
Bloomberg is trying to improve his image with racial minorities, many of whom are suspicious of a candidate who as New York mayor supported a controversial “stop and frisk” policing policy that disproportionately targeted blacks and Latinos.
Bloomberg apologised for backing the aggressive technique shortly before he announced his presidential bid.
The ten mayors backing Bloomberg have all undergone a training program for local elected officials organised by Bloomberg’s foundation in partnership with Harvard University, the New York Times reported.
“That’s not really grassroots support,” said Michael Miller, professor of political science at Barnard College.
“I don’t think there is any evidence that mayoral support can move the needle,” he told AFP.
Furthermore, women voters may decide to penalise him over allegations by ex-employees that he fostered a culture of sexism at his company, as reported by ABC News.
Claims that Bloomberg made crude comments about female staff were made when he first ran for New York mayor in the early 2000s.
Miller says the wide-open nature of the Democratic contest however could work in Bloomberg’s favour.
“There are a number of people who don’t like any of the many choices that they have. Maybe he can find backing among these people,” he said. — AFP