See­ing weak field, Bloomberg moves to join 2020 cam­paign

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MATT VISER AND MICHAEL SCHERER

For­mer New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is mak­ing plans to en­ter the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial pri­mary cam­paign this week, a re­flec­tion of anx­i­ety among party elites about the un­set­tled field of cur­rent con­tenders.

Bloomberg, who as one of the world’s rich­est men would bring sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial re­sources to his own cam­paign but also in­flame the pop­ulist wing of the party, plans to file pa­per­work and has dis­patched staff to Alabama to en­sure he can get onto the bal­lot in a state that has a Fri­day fil­ing dead­line. He has been call­ing top party of­fi­cials to let them know of his plans and could make an an­nounce­ment as early as next week.

The move marks a ma­jor re­ver­sal for Bloomberg, who an­nounced in March that he would not run for pres­i­dent, and also serves as a pub­lic re­buke of the per­for­mance so far of for­mer vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, who has at­tempted to build a coali­tion of the

same mod­er­ate Democrats that Bloomberg would court.

One of the driv­ing rea­sons Bloomberg de­cided against join­ing the race ear­lier this year — he an­nounced his de­ci­sion seven weeks be­fore Bi­den en­tered — was his view that Bi­den was too for­mi­da­ble a con­tender. But in the months since, Bi­den has been un­der­whelm­ing, re­main­ing among the race’s lead­ers but halt­ing in his de­bate performanc­es and stum­bling over rais­ing the tens of mil­lions nec­es­sary to mount a strong cam­paign.

Bloomberg ad­viser Howard Wolf­son would not take on Bi­den per­son­ally in con­firm­ing the bil­lion­aire’s plans but did al­lude to ques­tions about the field.

“We now need to fin­ish the job and en­sure that Trump is de­feated,” Wolf­son said. “But Mike is in­creas­ingly con­cerned that the cur­rent field of can­di­dates is not well po­si­tioned to do that.”

Con­cern is also rip­pling through the Demo­cratic Party over the oth­ers at the top of the can­di­date pile. The lib­eral pol­icy po­si­tions ad­vanced by Sens. Elizabeth War­ren (D-mass.) and Bernie San­ders (I-VT.) are seen by many as un­palat­able in gen­eral elec­tion contests in the states ex­pected to de­ter­mine the win­ner. San­ders’s health is also an is­sue af­ter his Oc­to­ber heart at­tack. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete But­tigieg has at­tracted at­ten­tion and raised sub­stan­tial money, but he has lit­tle sup­port among African Amer­i­cans, one of the party’s most im­por­tant con­stituen­cies.

Bloomberg, 77, has been out­spo­ken in his op­po­si­tion to War­ren’s and San­ders’s in­ten­tions to raise taxes on the ex­tremely wealthy like him­self, and on Thurs­day they re­turned the ill sen­ti­ments.

“The bil­lion­aire class is scared and they should be scared,” San­ders wrote on Twit­ter af­ter news of Bloomberg’s pos­si­ble en­try be­came pub­lic.

“Wel­come to the race, @MikeBloomb­erg!” War­ren tweeted, pro­vid­ing a link to the im­pacts her poli­cies would have on bil­lion­aires. She also sent out a fundrais­ing email say­ing “the wealthy and well con­nected are scared.”

It is still pos­si­ble that Bloomberg would not ul­ti­mately en­ter the race, but he is tak­ing steps to en­sure he will be on the bal­lot. Alabama’s dead­line is Fri­day, and New Hamp­shire’s is Nov. 15.

The Demo­cratic field has win­nowed re­cently from two dozen to 16, but Bloomberg’s de­ci­sion could also open the door to other an­nounce­ments. For­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral Eric H. Holder Jr. has not ruled out a pos­si­ble en­try, nor has the party’s 2016 nom­i­nee, Hil­lary Clin­ton. Oprah Win­frey, an early backer of Barack Obama, has re­peat­edly begged Dis­ney chief ex­ec­u­tive Bob Iger to jump into the race, but he has so far been un­will­ing.

“His get­ting in the race is cer­tainly go­ing to stim­u­late thought and provo­ca­tions that weren’t there be­fore,” for­mer se­na­tor Harry M. Reid (D-nev.) said of Bloomberg, whom he spoke to on Thurs­day. He is sched­uled to talk with Holder early next week.

“Bloomberg doesn’t do things half­way,” Reid added. “He’s go­ing to stir up some con­ver­sa­tion.”

Bloomberg has de­cided not to raise money for his bid if he does move for­ward, which would pre­clude him from en­try in the Demo­cratic de­bates un­der rules that re­quire a grow­ing num­ber of donors to qual­ify. “He has never raised a dime for his cam­paigns, and he is not about to start,” said a per­son fa­mil­iar with his think­ing, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to speak frankly about the plan­ning.

It is also pos­si­ble that he de­cides to skip the first four vot­ing states, an un­ortho­dox strat­egy that could up­end the reg­u­lar nom­i­nat­ing process and place far more em­pha­sis on the Su­per Tues­day contests of March 3, when the race will be­come more na­tion­al­ized — and more ex­pen­sive. His ad­vis­ers have said in the past that they did not plan to op­er­ate with a pre­set bud­get if he mounted a pres­i­den­tial ef­fort.

News of Bloomberg’s po­ten­tial en­try was first re­ported by the New York Times.

Bloomberg’s ad­viser Wolf­son, in con­firm­ing his plans, high­lighted his his­tory of build­ing a busi­ness from scratch and be­com­ing a “high-im­pact philanthro­pist.” He has also spent lav­ishly on pol­i­tics, do­nat­ing more than $100 mil­lion in the 2018 midterms and play­ing a role in Tues­day’s off-year elec­tions, in which Democrats romped in the sub­urbs that of­ten yearn for a mod­er­ate stan­dard-bearer.

Bloomberg was open ear­lier this year about his de­sire to get into the Demo­cratic pri­mary race. He made trips to Iowa and New Hamp­shire, test­ing the wa­ters for a cam­paign be­fore de­cid­ing against it, and in­stead planned to fund an in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tion that would work against Trump.

“I be­lieve I would de­feat Don­ald Trump in a gen­eral elec­tion,” Bloomberg said in a state­ment in March. “But I am clear-eyed about the dif­fi­culty of win­ning the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion in such a crowded field.”

Bloomberg is the sec­ond bil­lion­aire Demo­crat to re­verse an ear­lier de­ci­sion. Tom Steyer had ini­tially de­cided against run­ning but re­cently joined the field.

A Mon­mouth Univer­sity poll in March found that Bloomberg was dis­liked by just about as many Democrats as liked him — with 27 per­cent view­ing him fa­vor­ably, 26 per­cent un­fa­vor­ably, and nearly half say­ing they had no opin­ion or hadn’t heard of him.

Bloomberg’s en­trance would reignite a bat­tle over how much the rich­est Amer­i­cans should be taxed. In Jan­uary, on one of his fi­nal New Hamp­shire trips be­fore de­cid­ing against a bid, Bloomberg told The Wash­ing­ton Post that War­ren’s wealth tax was “prob­a­bly un­con­sti­tu­tional,” and he warned that se­ri­ously pur­su­ing it could wreck the coun­try’s pros­per­ity.

“We need a healthy econ­omy, and we shouldn’t be em­bar­rassed about our sys­tem,” Bloomberg said. “If you want to look at a sys­tem that’s not cap­i­tal­is­tic, just take a look at was per­haps the wealth­i­est coun­try in the world, and to­day peo­ple are starv­ing to death. It’s called Venezuela.”

War­ren, who has es­chewed big­money fundrais­ers, had warned from the out­set of her cam­paign that a self-fund­ing bil­lion­aire was a threat to the party.

“We ought to be build­ing grass­roots sup­port,” War­ren told re­porters af­ter her very first cam­paign event of 2019, in Coun­cil Bluffs, Iowa. “We ought to be build­ing a move­ment. And the way we do that is with lots of in­volve­ment from lots of peo­ple. Not hav­ing bil­lion­aires buy these cam­paigns, whether we’re talk­ing about su­per PACS or self­fund­ing.”

Bloomberg’s en­trance would give her and San­ders an­other foil but could pose chal­lenges not only to Bi­den and But­tigieg but a host of mod­er­ates who have strug­gled to gain trac­tion, in­clud­ing Mon­tana Gov. Steve Bul­lock and Sens. Michael F. Ben­net (Colo.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.)

“I still be­lieve Bi­den is best po­si­tioned to de­feat Trump, but Bloomberg ob­vi­ously fears that War­ren or San­ders might pre­vail in the pri­mary and then end up los­ing to Trump,” said Jon Cooper, a Demo­cratic fundraiser and prom­i­nent Bi­den supporter. “For those more cen­trist Democrats who share that con­cern, Bloomberg’s en­try into the race could of­fer a belt-and-sus­penders ap­proach.”

When he de­cided not to run ear­lier this year, Bloomberg’s ad­vis­ers had pointed to the ap­par­ent strength of other mod­er­ate po­ten­tial can­di­dates, most no­tably Bi­den. But he has grown in­creas­ingly con­cerned, par­tic­u­larly as impeachmen­t pro­ceed­ings have threat­ened to en­snare Bi­den over his ac­tions re­gard­ing Ukraine.

“As in­cred­i­bly con­cerned as Mike was about Trump re­main­ing pres­i­dent, af­ter Ukraine he be­come ever more con­cerned. He is con­vinced the pres­i­dent is an ex­is­ten­tial threat,” said the per­son fa­mil­iar with Bloomberg’s think­ing.

“We have seen in data that Democrats are ex­tremely fo­cused on nom­i­nat­ing the best can­di­date to de­feat Don­ald Trump. There is a supreme de­sire to have the best pos­si­ble can­di­dates to run in Novem­ber. We think we can make a very, very strong case that that is Mike Bloomberg,” the per­son said.

JEFF KOWALSKY/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/ GETTY IM­AGES

Michael Bloomberg is work­ing to get on the bal­lot in Alabama.

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