WASHINGTON — Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a self-made billionaire who oversaw the city's reconstruction efforts in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, officially entered the crowded 2020 Democratic presidential race on Sunday, billing himself as a “problem solver” best positioned to take on President Donald Trump.
Bloomberg launched his campaign online — unveiling a campaign website and video advertisement — after signaling for weeks that he was gearing up for a run. The former three-term mayor, entering a race that has been well underway since the start of the year, will look to make his case to voters via a campaign ad blitz in key primary states beyond the early primary states that most candidates have been targeting for months, according to campaign officials.
“I believe my unique set of experiences in business, government and philanthropy will enable me to win and lead,” Bloomberg said in a statement posted on his campaign website. “As a candidate, I’ll rally a broad and diverse coalition of Americans to win. And as president, I have the skills to fix what is broken in our great nation. And there is a lot broken.”
Bloomberg is running in the centrist lane that Joe Biden has led for months, but the former vice president's polling and fundraising edge has started to slip, as fellow moderate Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has gained ground on both fronts, and as left of center progressive candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, has also experienced a surge in support.
Bloomberg, who has a net worth of roughly $50 billion, and was ranked the 11th-richest person in the world by Forbes magazine, has vowed to spend at least $150 million of his fortune on various pieces of his 2020 campaign, a tactic that has attracted criticism from leading Democratic contenders, including Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Sanders in a tweet Friday, said he was “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.”
Bloomberg senior adviser Howard Wolfson had a different take, saying the former mayor had the means to spend "whatever it takes to defeat Donald Trump.”
The former mayor’s campaign spending plan includes more than $100 million for internet ads attacking Trump, between $15 million and $20 million on a voter registration drive targeting minority voters and more than $30 million for a first wave of television ads that will bypass the first four primary voting states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, and instead target the states that vote on Super Tuesday.
While Bloomberg can tap into his personal wealth to run his campaign, doing so comes at a time when the Democratic National Committee has started to put a premium on candidates collecting small-dollar donations. Bloomberg, who has said he will not accept campaign contributions, will likely not qualify for any of the DNC-sponsored debates, which require candidates to qualify by meeting individual donor thresholds. Not qualifying for the nationally televised debates has been largely regarded as a death knell for candidates — with New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio among the 10 candidates who have dropped out this year after failing to qualify for the debates.
Bloomberg, who ran for mayor as a Republican, registered as an independent in 2007, and rejoined the Democratic Party last October, enters a current field of 18 candidates. His pitch to Democrats, including a vow in his campaign video that "the wealthy will pay more in taxes," comes as the moderate wing of the party and the more activist-driven progressive side are fighting to define the future direction of the party.
While Bloomberg has used his personal wealth to boost causes popular with Democratic voters — advocating for gun control reforms, fighting for green energy, and calling for immigration reform — he has opposed plans such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal that have been embraced by the left of center wing of the party.
Bloomberg’s campaign launch video heavily touts his time as mayor of the nation’s largest city. A narrator speaking over images of Bloomberg on the job as mayor, states “when New York suffered the terrible tragedy of 9/11 he took charge becoming a three-term mayor who brought a city back from the ashes and brought back jobs and hope with it.”
The former mayor is sure to face questions about his record while serving as mayor from 2001 to 2013, where activists decried the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” policy that led to disproportionate numbers of minorities being questioned by police.
Bloomberg, in a preemptive move last week, delivered an address to congregants of a Brooklyn church apologizing for his administration’s previous push for stop and frisk. The mayor told churchgoers at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn that he’s come to understand the policy had affected innocent people in the black and Latino communities and eroded trust with the police department.
Doug Muzzio, a professor and pollster at Baruch College in Manhattan, said the stop and frisk issue alone "could kill his chances in the democratic primaries."
"The black vote could be lost with his stop and frisk," Muzzio said. “He was an unabashed supporter of stop and frisk. And he doubled down, doubled down and doubled down ... the apology was expedient and totally transactional. … He had a last-minute political calculation.”
Larry Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said conventional wisdom, which would suggest that Bloomberg has no chance, does not apply to the current time.
“We are in strange times,” Levy said. “Add a multibillion dollar fortune he will freely spend and the fact that Bloomberg was popular with the suburban swing voters surrounding the city — more popular, in fact, than he was with the New Yorkers he governed — you have to take him seriously.”
Jay Jacobs, chairman of the New York State Democratic Party and the Nassau Democratic Party, called Bloomberg’s chances “slim to none.” Jacobs said he likes Bloomberg, but his campaign isn’t built on a rationale that would draw a base to get him to win the nomination.
“I just don’t see how he brings anything new to the nomination race,” Jacobs said. “He’s very moderate, so he’s not competing in a lane that isn’t already represented by a good selection of moderates. Aside from being able to self-fund, I don’t see what advantage he has. And I frankly don’t see where he will draw his base from to win the primaries.”
Bloomberg, 77, will be among the oldest candidates in the race. Sanders, 78, is the oldest. Biden recently turned 77, and Warren is 70. All are looking to unseat Trump, 73.
The pool of 2020 candidates includes another billionaire and philanthropist, Tom Steyer, of California, who like Bloomberg has used his fortune to spend on causes such as the environment and most recently a nationwide "Need to Impeach" campaign directed at Trump. Steyer who spent $47 million of his own money to finance the first three months of his campaign, has yet to crack more than 2 percent support in polls since launching his bid in July.