So let’s take a minute to explore the unconventional and controversial presidential run of Bloomberg.
Who he is
Bloomberg, 77, was mayor of New York City for more than a decade, from 2002 to 2013. But he first ran and won as a Republican, then switched to be an independent and now is running for the Democratic nomination for president. He’s one of the richest people in the world, worth an estimated $50-plus-billion, stemming from his creation of a terminal named after him to provide real-time financial information. He’s still owner of the company, which also owns Bloomberg News.
How he started his run for president
On Nov. 21, right in the middle of impeachment and after years of toying with the idea, Bloomberg announced that he was running for president. At the time, we were months away from votes being cast, but other candidates had been at it for nearly a year. Former vice president Joe Biden was leading in the polls. And the Democratic establishment raised eyebrows at his chances.
The late entrance led to questions about whether Bloomberg was really entering the race to be a contender, or whether this was a bit of a lark from someone with enough money to give it a shot.
“I just don’t think there’s a hunger for Mike Bloomberg in a Democratic primary,” progressive consultant Rebecca Katz told Politico at the time.
How he’s upending how to run for president
When he got into the race, Bloomberg made a risky bet that arguably only someone with access to a ton of money could afford to make: He decided to skip the first four states to hold nominating contests — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — given that they only provide about 5 percent of the delegates. He also had limited time to build support there.
Instead, he has spent his time campaigning mostly in the 16 states and territories that will hold primaries March 3, known as Super Tuesday, because combined, they offer up about a third of the total delegates.
As part of that strategy, he has spent nearly $350 million on ads focused on Super Tuesday states — an astronomical amount. (That’s more than some presidential campaigns will raise in the entire campaign.) He even had a 60-second ad in the Super Bowl, which cost him $10 million, to counter President Trump’s.
He’s used his money to kind of reverse-engineer a campaign, running ads first and then setting up infrastructure in a number of states so people can knock on doors and make phone calls for him.
His primary opponents have sharply criticized him as a billionaire buying his way into contention for the nomination.
But Bloomberg and his supporters see his wealth as a strength; he can spend basically an endless amount of money, without asking other people for it, to go toe-to-toe with Trump.
How he’s gaining traction in the primary
Two national polls out this week show him in third or fourth place — sometimes higher than Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and the Iowa Caucus first-place finisher, former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg.
There are a couple reasons Bloomberg is doing well right now, said Jim Kessler, a Democratic consultant with ties to the moderate section of the party. The big one is out of his control: a muddied Democratic field with voters still undecided about who is the best to take on Trump.
“A lot of things needed to go right for the Bloomberg candidacy to take off,” Kessler wrote in an email to The Fix. “The field needed to be muddled, and it is. [Former vice president Joe] Biden had to underperform, and he has. And multiple candidates needed to be viable going into Super Tuesday, and that will likely be the case.”
Bloomberg also escaped the kind of scrutiny that comes from leading in the polls. That could change if he meets the polling requirements to be on the debate stage in Nevada on Feb. 19.
What his supporters say
That Bloomberg provides a particularly electable alternative to voters nervous about Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) rise. Bloomberg was a Republican so maybe he can win over Republican supporters.
He also has proven his commitment to causes important to the Democratic base. Most notably, he set up a powerful gun-regulation group that is winning big fights against the National Rifle Association in states across the nation.
“Mike gave grieving mothers like me a way to stand up and fight back,” said Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) as she endorsed Bloomberg this week. Her son was shot and killed. “Nobody running for president has done more for the gun violence prevention movement than Mike.”
He is not accepting campaign contributions, which could help him — somewhat like Trump — drive a populist message despite being so wealthy.
What’s really interesting about Bloomberg: How he’s picking up support from black voters
Black voters were always supposed to be Biden’s firewall. But could Bloomberg be eating into that? A Quinnipiac University poll out this week shows that Biden’s support among black voters declined 22 points over the past few weeks, while Bloomberg is closing in on Biden’s support.
He’s been targeting communities of color in states such as North Carolina weeks before other candidates are there. One unaffiliated national Democratic strategist said he has also expressed a real concrete plan for black America that goes further than other candidates’ plans. “The investments he’s talking about making in these communities are real,” said the strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly.
He has endorsements from several prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus, such as McBath, and several high-profile black mayors, like Washington, D.C.’s Muriel E. Bowser.
Those endorsements have come even as a 2015 audio surfaced this past week of Bloomberg describing murder suspects in New York as “male minorities.” Those comments brought to the forefront a major soft spot for Bloomberg’s candidacy: the controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy he supported as mayor of New York.
Bloomberg has said those comments don’t reflect how he thinks today and reemphasized that he has apologized for the policy, which was widely seen as contributing to police harassment of young, black men in New York.
South Carolina political analyst Bakari Sellers says he hears all the time from voters of color intrigued by Bloomberg’s ads — especially one that features an old audio clip of former president Barack Obama praising Bloomberg. “I’ve had so many people ask me ‘Why did Barack Obama endorse Mike Bloomberg?' ” he said, frustrated. (Obama hasn’t endorsed anyone.)
What his detractors say
That Bloomberg’s wealth is the reason he’s gotten this far. Sellers, who endorsed Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) before she dropped out, notes that Bloomberg spent millions of dollars in the 2018 midterm elections, and a number of the lawmakers who benefited from that are now endorsing him. The endorsements from black lawmakers in particular can help insulate Bloomberg from criticism about his time as New York mayor.
His philanthropic organizations have also won support from a political and business community that might now feel beholden to support him. Along with Harvard University, he set up a leadership organization to help recruit and train mayors, and now 100 of them support him.
Could he win the nomination?
It’s unclear. “Voters are giving Bloomberg a look,” Kessler said. But that doesn’t mean they’re sold on him; they’re also considering the other top candidates.
Still, almost everyone agrees that it’s time to start taking Bloomberg and his unconventional presidential run seriously. Not unlike another certain wealthy New Yorker.