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Michael Bloomberg jolts Senate battle with $20 million for Democrats

Former New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg speaks in New York on Sept. 26.
Former New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg speaks in New York on Sept. 26. (SHANNON STAPLETON/Reuters)

Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City who is considering a 2020 presidential campaign, will give $20 million to the main Democratic Senate super PAC this week — jolting the national battle for control of the chamber just five weeks away from the midterm elections.

Bloomberg’s intervention bolsters the Democrats’ Senate chances by infusing significant late-season capital into the Senate Majority PAC, a group that had $29 million on hand at the end of August and has been purchasing advertising in expensive media markets.

Bloomberg — a former Republican and declared political independent — says the emotional national debate over ­sexual-assault allegations against President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh has energized Democratic voters and provides an opening for the party to be more competitive in rallying women and swing voters, his advisers said Tuesday, adding that he sees last week’s contentious hearings as a tipping point.

“Mike was extraordinarily disappointed in the Republican leadership in the Senate and feels increasingly passionate about changing it,” Bloomberg adviser Kevin Sheekey said. “And he’s already enthusiastic about the impact he’s having on House races and increasingly confident that he can contribute to a Democratic takeover.”

The enormous sum brings Bloomberg — who has already pledged to spend $80 million to support Democratic congressional candidates — up to $100 million in spending commitments for the 2018 election cycle, firmly positioning himself in the Democratic camp as he contemplates a bid for the White House.

Bloomberg’s latest emphasis on his allegiance to Democrats comes as he is facing questions about his tenure as New York mayor. His record on policing and economic matters has been criticized as too conservative by some activists.

Sheekey said Bloomberg would send the $20 million check in coming days to the Senate Majority PAC, which works to elect Democrats and is closely aligned with Bloomberg’s longtime friend, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Republicans hold a 51-49 Senate majority, and GOP strategists have long felt optimistic about the party’s chances of holding on to their narrow edge in the chamber given that Trump remains popular in many key states. But Trump’s continued unpopularity among voters nationally and the charged cultural environment around Kavanaugh’s nomination have prompted top Democrats to increasingly turn their attention to the Senate, even as flipping the House remains the party’s focus.

Christine Blasey Ford has testified that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party in the early 1980s when they were both teenagers. Kavanaugh has strenuously denied Ford’s accusation and those made by others such as Deborah Ramirez, who alleged in a New Yorker article that the nominee exposed himself at a party while the two were freshmen at Yale University.

A vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination was postponed last week as senators in both parties called for further investigation of those allegations by the FBI. The probe is expected to be completed this week.

As Kavanaugh’s nomination has stalled, Democrats have seen an opportunity as Republicans defend him. Democrats have hoped to strengthen their connection with the #MeToo movement and women nationally, with Democratic senators such as Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) emerging as party stars.

The Senate Majority PAC raised $17.6 million in August, one of its best hauls of the year, and has raised nearly $100 million overall while also spending heavily to boost Democratic candidates, Federal Election Commission records show.

In June, the super PAC said it plans to spend about $80 million to reserve fall airtime for television commercials in nine battleground states: Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Its Republican rival, the Senate Leadership Fund — a super PAC allied with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — had about $40 million on hand at the end of August, according to federal election reports.

The Senate Majority PAC welcomed the influx of cash. “Mayor Bloomberg is a critical ally,” and his contribution “is another indicator that Democrats have real opportunity to take back the Senate,” J.B. Poersch, the group’s president, said in a statement.

Bloomberg’s latest spending on behalf of Democrats is part of a broader effort by him to build ties with the party, which has drifted to the left in recent years. As a left-leaning independent, Bloomberg has poured millions into gun-control advocacy as he has boosted dozens of candidates.

Just two years ago, Bloomberg was more of a maverick in his spending patterns, supporting Republicans such as Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) if they supported gun-control legislation, while also providing a slew of donations to Democrats.

This time around, Bloomberg’s political group has targeted expensive House races in places such as California, looking to lift Democrats in areas where advertising comes at a steep price.

“Right now I’m only focused on the midterms,” Bloomberg told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria last month. “I believe that the Republicans have not done what they should have done in terms of providing some counterbalance to the executive branch.”

Bloomberg said that he would “take a look” at a presidential campaign after the midterm elections.

Trump’s allies are closely watching Bloomberg’s moves. “If I were a Democrat strategist . . . and somebody said to me, ‘Who do you want to be the Democrat nominee for president of the United States?,’ there’s only one name I would choose . . . and his name is Michael Bloomberg,” former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in August.

Lewandowski added: “Mike Bloomberg created tens of thousands of jobs over the course of his lifetime. That is a story the American people like, and he’s an outsider. I think it would be a very competitive race.”

Bloomberg’s political activities are being advised by Sheekey and veteran Democratic strategist Howard Wolfson, among others. His political schedule this month includes visits to battleground areas such as the suburbs of Philadelphia.

Bloomberg is one of the rare mega-donors in national Democratic politics who is seriously eyeing a 2020 campaign. Billionaire former hedge fund chief Tom Steyer, who has funneled millions behind the causes of impeaching Trump and climate change, also has said that he would not rule out a presidential run.

Anu Narayanswamy and Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.