The billionaire might find a lane in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, but it’s hard to see where.
Media mogul, billionaire and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s late-in-the-game presidential ambitions cannot be counted out. Bloomberg spent over $100 million during his last mayoral bid and has the financial resources to spend exponentially more on a nationwide campaign. He’s never lost a political campaign and is almost certain to be met with oodles of free media coverage if he enters the race.
But it’s not clear what Bloomberg, who decided against a bid earlier in the year but now appears to be preparing for one, has to offer ― beyond money for consultants and television stations in the early states ― that isn’t available in another presidential candidate.
The sprawling Democratic presidential field, which topped 20 candidates at one point, has offered voters four mayors or former mayors, two self-funding businessmen, three New Yorkers, seven senior citizens and, depending on your ideological definitions, as many as 11 moderate Democrats. Though it’s possible voters might welcome all of those things in one convenient package ― especially if that package, again, is able to spend tens of millions of dollars promoting itself ― right now, evidence to back that up is scarce.
Howard Wolfson, a Democratic operative who has long served as a top aide to Bloomberg, laid out on Twitter his boss’s rationale for considering a bid.
Democrats “need to ensure that Trump is defeated ― but Mike is increasingly concerned that the current field of candidates is not well positioned to do that,” Wolfson wrote. “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.”
Wolfson concluded: “Based on his record of accomplishment, leadership and his ability to bring people together to drive change, Mike would be able to take the fight to Trump and win.”
But Democratic voters, at least so far, don’t share those worries about the field. A HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted after the last Democratic presidential debate found that 71% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters thought the party had two or more candidates who could defeat Trump. Fifty-three percent thought there were three or more options. A majority said either former Vice President Joe Biden or Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts would be able to beat Trump.
Other polling backs up this finding: An Economist/YouGov poll conducted this week found that 78% of Democrats were happy with their choices, and 22% wanted more candidates. And a Gallup poll conducted in late September found that 75% of Democrats were generally pleased with the party’s field of candidates, and just 21% wished someone else were running. Compare that to a similar poll in 2016, when just 58% said they were happy with the field. Or to one from 1993, when just 44% were happy.
Big-money Democratic donors, on the other hand, might be just as concerned as Bloomberg is. Those donors, broadly, are worried about Biden’s ability to defeat Warren, and about Warren’s ability to defeat the president. (Warren’s treatment of the donor class, which currently ranges from apathy to hostility, doesn’t do much to assuage these worries.)
There is a modicum of evidence that moderate Democrats are more open to a new candidate. The Economist/YouGov poll found satisfaction with the field was uniform across gender, age, income and racial dividing lines. But there was an ever-so-slight ideological gap. Though 85% of liberals were satisfied with the field, only 71% of centrists were.
(This is where it’s worth mentioning Bloomberg might not be the only late entrant: Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson reported Thursday night that former Attorney General Eric Holder was also considering a bid.)
The possibility Bloomberg could further divide moderate voters was part of the reason why the campaigns of Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) welcomed him to the race Thursday night.
“More billionaires seeking more political power surely isn’t the change America needs,” Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir said. Warren, who regularly declines to engage in day-to-day spats with the other Democratic candidates, sent out a Twitter missive of her own.
Bloomberg’s biggest initial advantage in the battle for moderate votes over Biden, and even over the well-funded mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, is his wallet. Biden had less than $10 million on hand at the end of the last Federal Election Commission reporting period. Buttigieg had over $23 million, but Bloomberg’s net worth of more than $50 billion (Forbes magazine believes he’s the 8th richest American) means he will easily be able to match any spending by any other candidate in the field.
But money can’t always buy success in a presidential contest. Just ask Tom Steyer, the other billionaire political donor in the race. He’s spent more than $40 million on the race, according to FEC filings. He’s polling at under 5%.