When he awoke, Bloomberg recalled, he asked someone the outcome, “and the guy said, ‘Nothing.’ I still can’t figure it out.”
While the rest of the Democratic field tries to recover from Iowa and pivot to New Hampshire, Bloomberg is seizing the moment to gain an advantage — doubling his television spending in key states, expanding his staff to more than 2,000, and traveling the country to introduce himself as a competent and accomplished manager.
The sheer size and machine-like efficiency of Bloomberg’s campaign, for which he has already paid more than $200 million of his own fortune, is distinct compared with the troubling performance of party leaders in Iowa and stumbling by former vice president Joe Biden.
Bloomberg, 77, began his campaign too late to qualify for the early primary states that often make or break presidential candidates. Instead, he has focused on delegate-rich Super Tuesday states, which will vote in early March, hoping to nudge Biden aside as the moderate alternative to Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, who finished surprisingly strong in Iowa, is also vying for the moderate mantle.
Bloomberg in recent weeks has rolled out repeated endorsements, including from several prominent African American mayors. His TV ads are airing in 27 states, including California, Michigan, Florida and Texas. And he is now in fourth place in a Washington Post average of polls, with support from 8 percent of Democratic voters nationally.
The muscle of Bloomberg’s campaign was on vivid display in Philadelphia, where he traveled after Detroit, as he staged a rally at the National Constitution Center that featured a laser show and a buffet that included free wine, beer, pasta and hoagies.
“Bloomberg 2020, make some noise, Philadelphia!” a DJ shouted as the grand entrance hall to the center filled with people, a crowd that his campaign said exceeded 2,000 and was the largest it had seen.
No fewer than eight introductory speakers — some wearing “I Like Mike” T-shirts — portrayed the former mayor as a veritable savior-in-waiting who can restore civility in Washington.
When it was his turn to speak, a moment for which the lights dimmed and he was twice introduced as the next president, Bloomberg said Democrats need a candidate who can “unite the party and go toe to toe with Donald Trump.”
While his rivals were racing from Iowa to New Hampshire for Friday’s debate and next week’s primary, Bloomberg was flying to Michigan and expressing little interest in what was happening anywhere else.
“I’m here in Michigan because this is a state we absolutely must win in November if we’re going to beat Donald Trump,” he told the crowd in Detroit.
Bloomberg’s stops in Philadelphia and Detroit were part of a 48-hour whirlwind tour that began in California, as he intensified his effort to distinguish his unorthodox, self-funded campaign from those of his Democratic rivals.
Over the course of the trip, which included stops in Sacramento, Fresno and Compton, Bloomberg never mentioned his Democratic opponents by name, saying only that if there’s another nominee — “God forbid,” he interjected each time — he would support them.
Instead, Bloomberg spoke as if he were already the Democrats’ choice, devoting the bulk of his focus to singling out the president, whom he described as a bully and a liar while declaring himself “the Un-Trump.”
“There’s nothing that Donald Trump can do or say that can hurt me,” Bloomberg said, a line he repeated to applause at each event. “He’s not going to bully me, and I’m not going to let him bully you.”
Bloomberg, in an interview in Detroit, said he does not name his Democratic rivals during his speeches because that would only help them. “Why give them the courtesy?” he asked. “I’m running against Donald Trump. To the extent these people are running against me, my polls are going up while theirs are going down.”
Bloomberg’s Philadelphia appearance was a show of force in the city where Biden’s campaign headquarters is located. It also came a day after the former vice president’s weak showing in Iowa.
Yet Bloomberg waved off the suggestion that he is counting on Biden faltering. “It’s true if some people aren’t in the race it would be easier,” he said of Biden, whom he described as a “very nice guy” and a “business friend.”
“I think you have to assume he’s going all the way, and we’ve got to make a better case,” Bloomberg said. “I would never criticize him, and I assume he would never criticize me.”
Asked about Sanders, he said, “Conventional wisdom is that Sanders and Warren are bad and when they get a good story in the paper, the stock market does go down a little bit.”
“Maybe after the nomination they can change their spots,” he said, envisioning a scenario where either is the Democrats’ candidate in the fall. “People do that all the time.”
For the most part, Bloomberg’s audiences greeted him warmly, except for a man who showed up in Compton with a sign that said, “Billionaires should not buy elections,” and who shouted, “No more billionaires!”
If they weren’t yet sold on Bloomberg, many voters said they were intrigued, viewing him as a New Yorker like Trump who has the money and mettle to challenge the president. “They’re on the same playing field,” said Fran Pollack, 70, a retired legal assistant who turned out for Bloomberg’s appearance in Philadelphia. “He’s a formidable opponent for Trump. We need someone who can take him on.”
Her husband, Stan, a retired salesman, was also checking out Bloomberg, if only because he has lately found himself questioning whether Biden “would be viable if you put him up in a debate against Trump.”
“Is Biden tough enough?” he asked. “The thing I like about Mike is that he’s tough.”
Others were curious but unwilling to commit to a candidate they said they know little about, despite his ubiquitous commercials and their unceasing mantra, “Mike Will Get It Done.”
“I’m checking out Bloom—Bloom—,” Nina Cole Davis, 74, said, struggling to remember his name after he spoke at a community center in Compton. “I’m impressed with” — she paused for a moment — “Bloomie?”
Her candidate, she said, is Biden, “because of his relationship with former president Obama. There was a brotherhood there that’s very moving.”
Bloomberg’s appearances were on time and tightly choreographed as he stuck to remarks he read off teleprompters. At moments, he appeared to ad-lib, though not always with ideal results, such as in Compton when he referred to the pop star Shakira as “Shareka.”
Everywhere he went, an entourage of advisers, aides and reporters followed, traveling on a plane chartered by the campaign, the journalists’ expenses reimbursed by news organizations.
If Trump is often boastful and bombastic, Bloomberg is self-deprecating and droll. Speaking in a soft nasal voice, he described himself not as the owner of grand homes in New York, London and Bermuda but as a man who grew up “middle class” and who financed college by parking cars and taking out loans, “all of which I’ve paid back.”
At moments, he talked as if he were a mere spectator to a campaign he has funded with his personal fortune. “How many offices do we have in California — does anyone know?” he called out to his staff from the stage during a stop at a Sacramento coffee shop.
Recalling the large crowd that turned out for him in Phoenix recently, he said, “You want to pinch yourself, they’re all here to see you.” Then he added that they had turned out because of what he had accomplished, “the people I put together.”
At every appearance, he made sure to list his accomplishments as New York City’s mayor, never failing to mention teacher raises, the construction of affordable housing and that he took over a “tattered city” after the 9/11 attacks.
“We began to write a comeback story,” he said.
As he listened in Compton, Gregory Hayes, 63, recalled another aspect of Bloomberg’s mayoralty — the “stop and frisk” policy that led to police officers stopping a disproportionate number of African Americans. Just before announcing his presidential bid, Bloomberg apologized for supporting the policy.
“We don’t want an apology,” said Davis, a retired bus driver. “We want us something of substance — money, cash — so people can buy a house and send their kids to school because you stopped their dreams. We want someone to repair the harm done to them people.”
Marjorie Shipp, a retired teacher who attended Bloomberg’s Compton appearance, said she received a mass mailing from his campaign recently and was delighted that it did not ask for a contribution.
“That’s the first time that’s ever happened,” Shipp said. “He sounds like a good guy. But they all do. I’ll keep listening.”
Emily Guskin in Washington contributed to this report.