Despatch from Washington | International

Ballots, billionaires and Bloomberg


The former New York Mayor is directing his own fortunes towards his presidential campaign

“I’m running for President to defeat Donald Trump and rebuild America,” the former New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, wrote as he launched his campaign a few days ago. “He [Trump] represents an existential threat to our country and our values. If he wins another term in office, we may never recover from the damage.”

Mr. Bloomberg, a businessman and philanthropist, is one of the world’s richest people, with a net worth of about $55 billion. He is a moderate and a strong advocate for climate action and gun control. Mostly a Democrat through the years, Mr. Bloomberg ran as a Republican in the mayoral race in NYC in 2001, became an independent during his second term and later, returned to the Democratic fold.

In the past, he has helped build a strong political counterforce to the National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful gun lobby in the U.S. In 2018, he was the largest external spender on Democratic mid-term races, giving some $24 million to 24 House races, The New York Times reported. He has also given millions to Republicans, whose policies were aligned with his own.

Now, Mr. Bloomberg is directing his fortunes towards his own campaign, raising some tough questions. Last week, he bought an astronomical $37 million in nationwide TV ads.

Independent Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, and Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, both progressives competing for the Democratic nomination, have criticised Mr. Bloomberg for throwing his personal wealth into the campaign.

“Michael Bloomberg is making a bet about democracy in 2020. He doesn’t need people, he only needs bags and bags of money,” Ms. Warren said in Iowa on Monday.

“I’m disgusted by the idea that Michael Bloomberg or any other billionaire thinks they can circumvent the political process and spend tens of millions of dollars to buy our elections,” Mr. Sanders said.

Media ties

Mr. Bloomberg does not plan on taking any political donations or a salary if he wins, his principal adviser Howard Wolfson said. Mr. Wolfson said Mr. Bloomberg not taking contributions makes him “wholly independent of special interests”.

The announcement also raises important policy questions about how Mr. Bloomberg’s media ties will be addressed. John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, has responded to the situation, saying that while the company would continue to report on the elections, conduct polls, etc., it would take a break from publishing unsigned editorials and would not investigate Mr. Bloomberg or his Democratic rivals.

If early numbers are anything to go by, Mr. Bloomberg was not doing much for any electability issues, according to a November 8 poll from Morning Consult. In a hypothetical race, he got 43% against Mr. Trump’s 37% in a poll of general voters. This was not too different compared to how Mr. Sanders, Ms. Warren and Joe Biden, the former Vice-President, fared in the same poll. However, he may not make it that far as only 4% of Democratic primary voters said Mr. Bloomberg would be their candidate of choice against Mr. Trump, putting him behind Kamala Harris (6%), Pete Buttigieg (8%), Ms. Warren (18%), Mr. Sanders (20%) and Mr. Biden (31%).

Mr. Bloomberg’s popularity with minorities is also in question. Before announcing his candidacy, he apologised at an African American church in Brooklyn for a ‘stop and frisk’ policing policy from his time as Mayor. The policy had impacted African Americans and Latinos disproportionately.

Mr. Biden has said he welcomes the competition with Mr. Bloomberg. “In terms of he’s running because of me, the last polls I looked at, I’m pretty far ahead,” he said earlier this month.

Nevertheless, some are concerned that Mr. Bloomberg’s presence could take away votes from Mr. Biden, another centrist Democrat. The former Mayor’s election strategy is also unusual. Not only has Mr. Bloomberg entered the race late, he intends to skip the early State Democratic primaries, i.e., those in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, and will instead go straight into ‘Super Tuesday’, a day in March when a large number of States will hold their primaries. It appears that he is counting on there being no clear contender from the early States.

If a week is a long time in politics, then perhaps it is unwise to speculate too much on what can happen in a few months and with billions of dollars.

(Sriram Lakshman is The Hindu’s Washington correspondent)

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 4:56:38 AM |

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