The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The coronavirus crisis shows a common thread between Warren and Bloomberg: Both campaign on data, science and competence

Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg waits among a crowd that includes Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) before marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 55th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala., on March 1. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg have long treated each other as foils.

But the looming coronavirus health crisis has revealed a core similarity between the senator and the billionaire: Both are using this moment to paint themselves as highly competent technocrats who would use data to guide policy.

Over the weekend, both candidates seized on the virus to draw a sharp contrast with President Trump, excoriating the administration’s response to the epidemic and highlighting what they would do differently.

These pitches come just days before Super Tuesday, which will be a major test for both campaigns. Warren hasn’t won many delegates in the Democratic nominating process and is hoping to show her candidacy is still viable. Bloomberg, meanwhile, will be on the ballot for the first time after spending nearly a billion dollars on his campaign.

Vice President Pence and the HHS secretary panned criticism of the Trump administration's actions on the coronavirus March 1, but warned it will keep spreading. (Video: The Washington Post)

Both will begin feeling significant pressure to exit the race if they can’t do well this week.

With little left to lose, Elizabeth Warren rolls the dice

Bloomberg’s coronavirus response came in the form of a taped three minute address aired on two networks Sunday night, thanks to a $1.5 million ad buy.

In the spot, released Saturday, he laid out how he would combat the virus as president.

“At times like this, it is the job of the president to reassure the public that he or she is taking all the necessary steps to protect the health and well-being of every citizen,” Bloomberg said.

“The public wants to know their leader is trained, informed and respected. When a problem arises, they want someone in charge who can marshal facts and expertise to confront the problem,” he said.

Bloomberg also referenced his past accomplishments, noting that he became mayor of New York just months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It was evidence, he said, that he knows how to lead during a crisis.

And he reminded viewers of his connection to the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, an institution that was named for him after he gave a $289 million donation in 2001.

Bloomberg’s plan to address the virus includes inviting doctors who’ve been pushed out of government back to their old jobs, undoing the Trump administration’s cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and additional federal funds to prepare hospitals to treat epidemics.

Warren’s comments on the issue came Saturday, when she veered from her stump speech to focus on her proposals.

“This is a time for honest leadership that respects science, that draws on serious experts and that delivers real results,” Warren told a crowd of about 2,000 people in Houston after finishing a dismal fifth place in South Carolina.

She ticked through her resume, highlighting how at major crisis moments she has dug into data and enacted solutions, including her research into why middle class families are going bankrupt, her time grilling regulators when she sat on a panel overseeing how the federal bailout money was spent and her leadership of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

“This moment is a reminder of what qualities we need in a president — and what qualities are so sorely lacking in the one we have,” Warren said. “I’ve been at the center of this kind of crisis before.”

Warren released her first proposal to address the coronavirus last week and was quick to point out that she was offering a plan before any of the other candidates — and even before the White House.

On Saturday, she said she will soon release more details. But she previewed her ideas, saying she wants the federal government to provide all Americans with free screening for the virus and free vaccines if one is developed.

Anyone quarantined at a medical facility should not have to pay huge medical bills, she said, though it’s not clear who would foot the expense. All workers should receive paid time off if they must stay home if sick. And she wants the Federal Reserve to offer low-interest loans to companies that provide that benefit to workers.

Warren called for a stimulus program to help keep the economy humming, even as the stock market falls and Americans are shopping less. She also used the moment to contrast her style to the other candidates, including taking a dig at Bloomberg and his TV ad.

“Let’s be blunt,” she said. “This crisis demands more than a billionaire mayor who believes that since he’s rich enough to buy network airtime to pretend he’s the president, that entitles him to be president.”

She also turned on former vice president Joe Biden, who prevailed overwhelmingly in the South Carolina primary Saturday, saying the “crisis demands more than a former vice president so eager to cut deals with Mitch McConnell and the Republicans that he’ll trade good ideas for bad ones.”

And she referenced Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), saying “this crisis demands more than a senator who has good ideas, but whose 30-year track record shows he consistently calls for things he fails to get done and consistently opposes things he nevertheless fails to stop.”