Seven events, three states, two days.
Mike Bloomberg has wrapped up a barnstorming trip to capitalize on an unsettled Democratic presidential race.
Polls show the billionaire former New York City mayor gaining traction, as onetime front-runner Joe Biden has struggled after very disappointing finishes in the first two contests.
Bernie Sanders won in New Hampshire, with Pete Buttigieg in second. The two essentially tied in Iowa.
But Bloomberg is skipping all of the early states and banking instead on proving his campaign’s viability by doing well on Super Tuesday, when 14 states vote on March 3.
His heavy schedule of campaign events coupled with large TV ad buys will continue promoting the campaign narrative captured in the campaign slogan that is featured in ads, on posters, T-shirts and other campaign paraphernalia: “Mike will get it done.”
Bloomberg made two stops in Houston on Thursday night, preceded by rallies in three North Carolina cities earlier in the day. That came after a pair of events in Tennessee on Wednesday.
There are no attacks on his competition for the nomination. He doesn’t mention his Democratic opponents by name. He says he’ll support the Democratic nominee if it’s not him (“God forbid,” he says). The closest he comes is when he says the country needs “evolution, not a revolution” — a clear reference to Sanders, whose campaign is premised on the need for revolutionary change in America.
Instead, Bloomberg’s main target is the obvious one. At every rally, he says, right near the top, “Let me be clear about why I am in this race. I am running to defeat Donald Trump.”
Then comes the pledge to restore honor to our government, to build a country we can be proud of, to bring people together and to get things done.
Under President Trump, Bloomberg intones, “this is a national emergency.”
He portrays himself as someone who has done so well in life — amassing a fortune estimated to top $60 billion — that there’s nothing Trump can do to hurt him. He can’t be bullied, he says, “I’m a New Yorker and I’m not afraid of Donald Trump.”
Then comes the punchline: “Donald Trump is afraid of me.”
The president and the candidate who promises to defeat him exchanged barbs in the form of tweets Thursday.
Then, speaking in Greensboro, N.C., Bloomberg used his rally to respond to Trump’s latest insults. “He calls me Little Mike and the answer is, ‘Donald, where I come from, we measure from your neck up,’ ” he said.
Bloomberg’s attacks on Trump elicited cheers from packed houses in coffee shops, community centers, music clubs and even a train station in cities including Chattanooga, Tenn., Nashville, Tenn., Winston-Salem, N.C., Greensboro, N.C., and Raleigh, N.C. In interviews, many attendees say they are still undecided on whom to support, even as early voting is underway in their states.
One of those voters is retiree Michael Day. He notes the frequent criticism of Bloomberg as a billionaire trying to buy his way into the presidency even though he entered the race just 11 weeks ago. Day says normally Bloomberg’s wealth would bother him. Not this year. He doesn’t like it but says it’s a fact that money “seems to rule” the political process these days. He says it may take someone with such vast personal resources to defeat Trump. He was at a Winston-Salem event at a coffee shop holding up a sign that said, in all caps, “The only way to stop a dishonest (crooked, lying, cheating) New York businessman is with an honest New York businessman.”
“I love Amy Klobuchar and I love Mayor Pete, but I don’t think either can beat President Trump, and that’s paramount,” he said. “Another four years of this administration and the swamp he’s created is just unacceptable.”
But some who showed up were simply curious to see what Bloomberg has to offer.
Briana Brady, 20, was at the Chattanooga event with her mother. She said she was glad to have a presidential candidate coming to Tennessee so early in the campaign, something she couldn’t recall seeing before. But she’s not sold on Bloomberg.
“I’ve kind of changed to the Warren-supporting crowd but following her performance in Iowa and New Hampshire obviously having to reconsider.” For now, she says, she’s still with Elizabeth Warren “but we’ll see what progresses over the next few weeks.”
The sudden attention the Bloomberg campaign has been getting hasn’t all been positive. Two stories from his past broke this week. One from 2015, when in a speech to the Aspen Institute, he spoke positively of New York City’s so-called stop-and-frisk policy, which allowed random searches of people on the street. It actually disproportionately targeted African Americans. In those remarks, Bloomberg said that “95% of your murders and murderers and murder victims fit one M.O. You can just take the description and Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male minorities 15 to 25.”
Bloomberg had already disavowed and apologized for promoting and expanding stop-and-frisk as mayor. When asked about the 2015 comments this week, he told reporters, “this issue and my comments about it do not reflect my commitment to criminal justice reform and racial equity.”
A separate story quoting Bloomberg from 2008 appeared to show him bemoaning the end of the discriminatory lending practice known as “redlining,” in which entire neighborhoods were deemed unsuitable for mortgages and other loans. In those comments, he says the end of redlining led to many bad loans that contributed to the 2008 mortgage crisis.
Campaign spokesman Stu Loeser told The Associated Press that as mayor, Bloomberg “attacked predatory lending” and that he has a plan to “help a million more Black families buy a house, and counteract the effects of redlining and the subprime mortgage crisis.”
The Bloomberg campaign has also countered such news with a string of endorsements in recent days from prominent African American mayors and members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Bloomberg has supported many of their reelection efforts in the past. Now he is reaping the benefits of their support.
Because Bloomberg is not on the ballot in the next states to vote, Nevada and South Carolina, his strength with voters can only be measured so far by his polling numbers. He continues to flood the airwaves with TV commercials that show him calling for action on climate change and gun violence, and one featuring clips of Barack Obama as president showering praise on Bloomberg.
Voters get to sort through it all and give their first assessment on Super Tuesday. That’s when we’ll learn much more about how formidable of a candidate Mike Bloomberg will be.