Bloomberg’s big plans don’t stop at nom­i­na­tion

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MICHAEL SCHERER

akron, ohio — By the time Mike Bloomberg sniffed the hy­dro­ponic basil grow­ing in an old tire fac­tory here, he had al­ready trav­eled 1,700 miles in three hops on his char­tered plane, met with the mayor of Chicago and climbed into a soy­bean trac­tor on the frozen plains of south­ern Min­nesota.

It was a show of force — four states in less than 17 hours on Wed­nes­day, each event metic­u­lously pro­duced for lo­cal press, with sep­a­rate rented mo­tor­cades and a but­ton-down ad­vance staff that chore­ographed his move­ments like a bal­let. No other pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in the Demo­cratic field would have tried to pull this off in Jan­uary.

As the cam­eras shut­tered beSEE BLOOMBERG ON A7

fore the pur­ple grow lights of an ur­ban farm, he asked whether any­one knew the dif­fer­ence be­tween a good sales­man and a great one. The good sales­man, he ex­plained, can face re­jec­tion at one door and move on to the next just as con­vinced he will make the sale.

“The great sales­man knocks on the same door,” he said with a sly smile.

The thing that makes Bloomberg dif­fer­ent is that he can knock on all doors at once. Bloomberg is run­ning ag­gres­sively to win the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion, but he is si­mul­ta­ne­ously build­ing out a gen­eral elec­tion ma­chine to de­feat Pres­i­dent Trump, with a new struc­ture — data, field or­ga­niz­ing, advertisin­g and pol­icy — that aims to elect Democrats up and down the bal­lot even if the party’s vot­ers re­ject the former New York mayor this spring.

The party he is mov­ing to trans­form, which he only re­joined in Oc­to­ber, has be­come lit­tle more than a by­stander to his am­bi­tion. With more than 800 em­ploy­ees, $200 mil­lion in ad spend­ing so far and a fully catered Times Square of­fice that houses hun­dreds of em­ploy­ees, “Mike Bloomberg 2020, Inc.” does not re­sem­ble a pri­mary cam­paign in any tra­di­tional sense. It is an ex­per­i­ment in what hap­pens to democ­racy when a sin­gle fac­tion op­er­ates with­out eco­nomic con­straints.

While most pres­i­den­tial ef­forts start early and poor, the Bloomberg project ex­ists in an in­verted di­men­sion, a fact that has caught the at­ten­tion of Trump, who spent years closely track­ing Bloomberg’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer in New York. The pres­i­dent has been mon­i­tor­ing Bloomberg’s cam­paign, im­pressed by his ex­tra­or­di­nary spend­ing and fear­ful of his po­ten­tial rise, ac­cord­ing to Trump con­fi­dants with whom the pres­i­dent has dis­cussed Bloomberg. They spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss strat­egy.

Bloomberg’s aides, in turn, have de­lighted in try­ing to find ways to get Trump’s at­ten­tion and in­crease his anx­i­ety, such as the re­cent pur­chase of an $11 mil­lion Su­per Bowl ad that will run against a sim­i­lar spot pur­chased by Trump’s cam­paign. When Trump tweeted an at­tack on Bloomberg on Mon­day, the former mayor’s team was de­lighted.

“Glad to see you’re watch­ing our ads,” Bloomberg tweeted in re­sponse.

The ex­trav­a­gance is part of the mes­sage, an at­tempt to demon­strate his com­pe­tence and show that he can man­age some­thing big with good in­ten­tions.

“We also want peo­ple to know that we are build­ing a jug­ger­naut pointed at Don­ald Trump and the Re­pub­li­can Party,” said Tim O’brien, a se­nior ad­viser to the cam­paign who has been tak­ing the mes­sage to state par­ties around the coun­try. “One of Mike’s goals is to make a ma­chine that lasts. This idea that he wants to do a van­ity run or is just buy­ing ex­po­sure is be­lied by that.”

To begin with, that means build­ing a fully staffed gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign in Jan­uary to win pri­mary con­tests in March, with a suite of high-pro­file re­cruits on the pay­roll, in­clud­ing former top ex­ec­u­tives for Face­book, Foursquare and Groupm, the world’s largest advertisin­g me­dia com­pany by billings. No one at head­quar­ters knows what he will ul­ti­mately choose to spend, but they op­er­ate for the mo­ment with­out bud­gets, putting the 12th-rich­est per­son on the planet on a path to spend $1 bil­lion or more.

He wants Democrats to know he is happy to spread the money around. Dur­ing a swing through Texas on Satur­day, when his cam­paign staged more than 150 events in 27 states in a show of or­ga­niz­ing prow­ess, he cast him­self as a po­ten­tial bene­fac­tor and men­tor for all state and lo­cal party or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“I think you look at each,” Bloomberg said, when asked whether he would boost them. “You look to see how well they’re run, and if you tried to help, that you’d be able to help. That’s num­ber one. And num­ber two would be that your money would be used ef­fi­ciently. And it’s not just money. We can bring some ad­vice.”

Whether he wins or loses the nom­i­na­tion, the ubiq­ui­tous tele­vi­sion and dig­i­tal ads he is run­ning have been crafted as the open­ing ex­change in a con­ver­sa­tion about Trump’s fail­ures that will con­tinue through Novem­ber.

“I am look­ing for­ward to mak­ing a multi-month-long case to vot­ers that will end on Elec­tion Day with his de­feat,” says Howard Wolf­son, a top ad­viser over­see­ing the paid me­dia ef­forts.

New health-care spots that be­gan air­ing Mon­day fo­cus nearly as much on at­tack­ing Trump as in­tro­duc­ing Bloomberg. “Amer­ica is sick of Don­ald Trump, and Amer­ica is get­ting sicker,” be­gins one ad voice-over, as the screen shows un­flat­ter­ing pho­tos of the pres­i­dent. “There are 1 mil­lion more unin­sured Amer­i­cans ev­ery year un­der Trump.”

In a sign of how closely Trump is mon­i­tor­ing Bloomberg’s spots, the pres­i­dent re­sponded Mon­day to a new ad that de­nounced Trump for sup­port­ing a Jus­tice Depart­ment law­suit to over­turn pro­tec­tions for peo­ple with pre­ex­ist­ing con­di­tions.

“Mini Mike Bloomberg is spend­ing a lot of money on False Advertisin­g,” Trump wrote, in a tweet that was it­self mis­lead­ing. “I was the per­son who saved Pre­Ex­ist­ing Con­di­tions in your Health­care.”

(Trump ar­gues that he will urge Congress to re­in­state the pro­tec­tions if he suc­ceeds in court at re­mov­ing them.)

Bloomberg’s data op­er­a­tion, cryp­ti­cally called Hawk­fish, aims to in­cor­po­rate ex­pen­sive de­mo­graphic and tar­get­ing data, parts of which can later be fed back into the party’s data­bases or re­pur­posed for the broader fight against Trump and Re­pub­li­cans. The fact that he is a can­di­date gives him greater ac­cess to party data than he would oth­er­wise have, and as a can­di­date, he also ben­e­fits from lower tele­vi­sion ad rates in swing states be­fore their pri­mary con­tests than he would if he sim­ply ad­ver­tised against Trump as a reg­u­lar cit­i­zen.

The mas­sive cam­paign staffs he has been bring­ing on in swing states — 60 in Ari­zona and more than 80 in North Carolina, for ex­am­ple, at a time when most can­di­dates are fo­cused in Iowa — have been promised jobs through the July con­ven­tion or Novem­ber elec­tion, long af­ter his pri­mary cam­paign closes up shop.

On the walls of the cam­paign head­quar­ters in Man­hat­tan, on a floor pre­vi­ously oc­cu­pied by the New York Times, two dig­i­tal count­down clocks hang in pairs. One ticks to Su­per Tues­day, March 3, when Bloomberg hopes to pick up del­e­gates in 14 states af­ter de­clin­ing to cam­paign in the first four con­tests. The other aims at the gen­eral elec­tion in Novem­ber.

“Ei­ther it is go­ing to be the best pri­mary cam­paign in Amer­i­can his­tory, or the great­est IE that has ever been cre­ated,” said cam­paign man­ager Kevin Sheekey, us­ing the po­lit­i­cal lingo for an in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­ture cam­paign, the su­per Pac-type ef­forts that wealthy in­ter­ests use to in­flu­ence elec­tions.

All parts of any cam­paign that have been run be­fore — an ag­gres­sive con­stituency op­er­a­tion, a sur­ro­gate team, a Span­ish-lan­guage ef­fort, lo­cal me­dia teams in dozens of states so far — have been built out. Top aides have been telling Bloomberg to give his cell­phone num­ber to su­perdel­e­gates whose sup­port could play a de­ci­sive role in a con­tested con­ven­tion.

His cam­paign is turn­ing out a steady stream of cam­paign swag — sold at cost, not to raise money — in the hopes of a com­ing de­mand for “I LIKE MIKE” and “Democ­racy is not a witch hunt” T-shirts.

His own so­cial set has been taken care of, as well. Even though Bloomberg will not ac­cept cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions, part of his po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tion, called Com­mit­tee for Mike, is court­ing Wall Street ex­ec­u­tives, New York phi­lan­thropists and other lo­cal lead­ers with spe­cial events and weekly in­vite-only con­fer­ence calls. The re­quest is in­flu­ence.

“Am­plify our mes­sage by act­ing as val­ida­tors in the me­dia, within your pro­fes­sional net­work, and other spheres,” the cam­paign wrote in a re­cent email to the group, af­ter Bloomberg in­vited dozens to a cam­paign break­fast briefing at one of his Up­per East Side build­ings.

De­spite all the spend­ing, his pri­mary hopes de­pend largely on fac­tors well be­yond his con­trol. If former vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den per­forms well in the early states, Bloomberg’s mod­er­ate ap­peal will likely be over­shad­owed. But in the case of a stum­ble, or a di­vided field, Bloomberg could po­si­tion him­self as a party bro­ker with a mi­nor­ity of del­e­gates, or as a mod­er­ate unity can­di­date, aim­ing to bring to­gether the party.

On the cam­paign trail, much of what he is do­ing in the mean­time is de­fi­ant in its vague ap­peal. An en­gi­neer by na­ture who likes to talk about del­e­gat­ing author­ity, he is fo­cused on process and ef­fi­cient mes­sage de­liv­ery. De­spite 12 years as mayor, he is still learn­ing to emote and talk with his hands. His cam­paign signs have the same blue-on-blue de­sign used by the 2012 Obama cam­paign, and his en­trance song at events, lifted from John F. Kerry’s ac­cep­tance speech at the 2004 con­ven­tion, is U2’s “Beau­ti­ful Day.”

His pol­icy, though some­times nu­anced on pa­per, is un­com­pli­cated in pre­sen­ta­tion, lean­ing heav­ily on phrases known to move fo­cus groups.

“My pitch, I guess,” he told more than 500 po­ten­tial sup­port­ers in Ohio on Wed­nes­day, read­ing from notes, “is if you want health in­sur­ance for ev­ery­one, if you want to com­bat inequal­ity with fairer taxes and bet­ter jobs, if you want to share my be­lief in op­por­tu­nity for all, if you sup­port a com­mit­ment to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion in this coun­try for every­body, if you want to clean out the White House, clean out the Oval Of­fice, if you want to get things done, join Team Bloomberg.”

At an ear­lier event in Chicago, only a cou­ple hun­dred showed up, and some of them seemed less than con­vinced. One group of a half-dozen younger at­ten­dees in the au­di­ence said they found out about the event through their em­ployer, which one young woman said she was “scared” to iden­tify.

But a few feet away, fear of a dif­fer­ent sort had pro­duced real sup­port. “We are re­ally scared,” said Brenda Gor­don, a teacher of den­tistry from Chicago, speak­ing of Trump. She said she came to the event af­ter sign­ing up for the email list for a man she be­lieved could win, whom she called “my ex­cep­tion to the old white man rule.”

“He is ev­ery­thing Trump wishes he was,” she said. “He is a real bil­lion­aire.”

As Bloomberg fin­ished his re­marks in Akron, and pre­pared to travel back to Queens, where his day had be­gun, he ad­mit­ted that he was not look­ing for­ward to the fourth flight.

But he also wanted the crowd to know that he is just get­ting started.

“To­mor­row, it starts again,” he said. “I’m the luck­i­est guy in the world.”

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES

Peo­ple leave Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Mike Bloomberg’s new field of­fice in Los An­ge­les on Jan. 6. With more than 800 em­ploy­ees and $200 mil­lion in ad spend­ing so far, the bil­lion­aire’s run does not re­sem­ble a pri­mary cam­paign in any tra­di­tional sense.

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