Presidential candidate, and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks...

Presidential candidate, and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks to Jewish voters on Sunday at Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center in Aventura, Fla. Credit: AP/Andrew Uloza

Judging by his early polling, Michael Bloomberg is giving election-buying a good name, as long as the money is filtered through the cleansing medium of television ad buys.

As you may know by now, especially if you have seen his ads, the billionaire media mogul and former New York mayor is running for president by sitting out the first four primary states. Instead, in a television-age version of William McKinley's "front-porch campaign," he is running ads everywhere while he focuses on the Super Tuesday primaries on March 3, when about 40% of all the party's convention delegates will be decided in one day.

Of course, more than a few Democrats, especially in those four early states, are steamed about the mere appearance that he's trying to buy the nomination rather than wear out his overshoes in the Iowa and New Hampshire winters.

But, unlike most other candidates, he's spending his own money, which he can easily afford to do. His fortune of more than $50 billion, according to Forbes, humbles the $3.1 billion that Forbes reported for President Donald Trump. In typical form, Trump says that's too low but, unlike other recent presidents, refuses to provide such evidence as, say, his tax returns.

The other billionaire in the race, former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, has a reported $1.6 billion, which looks modest by comparison.

Personal wealth matters more than usual this year for Democrats who are trying in various ways to prove their populist appeal in winning back working- and middle-class voters who defected to Trump or didn't feel motivated enough by Democrats to turn out and vote.

Welcome to the latest stage of media politics. Four years ago, Trump built a campaign on his TV stardom. Now Bloomberg is building one on his TV commercials.

But, so far, Bloomberg's gamble of flooding the airwaves appears to be paying off. A national Monmouth University poll released Wednesday found 9% support for Bloomberg, up from 5% in December.

That's more than a little ways behind front-runners former Vice President Joe Biden at 30%, up from 26% in December; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, at 23%, up from 21%; and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 14%, down from 17%. But it's not a bad start for a guy who, in a way, is campaigning by remote control.

Monmouth also found evidence that voters don't mind that much, either. As NBC pointed out, 56% of Democrats surveyed said the early states have too much say in the race. Also, 57% of registered voters overall said they want a new president to be elected this year. That's an extraordinary anti-incumbent sentiment despite the currently strong economy.

Bloomberg's video-centric strategy is not entirely without precedent. Former New York Mayor — and now one of Trump's personal lawyers — Rudy Giuliani tried a similar path in 2008. He skipped the earliest states to focus on Florida throughout the primary season, hoping a win there would propel him on to victory on Super Tuesday. But, no way. Lacking momentum, he finished third in Florida and ended his campaign the next day. Maybe a few hundred million more ad dollars would have helped.

In Bloomberg's case, I expect that exposure to voters won't be as much of a challenge as the content of his message. He ran as a Republican, then as an independent in Democratic New York. He alienated black and Latino voters by backing and eventually withdrawing a stop-and-frisk policing strategy for which he apologized profusely as he launched his presidential bid.

Now he's running for the Democratic nomination as a critic of the party's recent left-progressive drift.

He refuses to endorse the Democratic Party platform that he says goes too far in blaming the private sector for economic troubles and obstructing some policies of education reform and deficit reduction that he favors.

In other words, he's a supermarket Democrat who picks and chooses the issues he likes or doesn't like. No wonder he's popular with independents. So is Biden, whom I expect to be his biggest rival and who also has shown admirable resilience, despite the persistent rumblings among Twitter Democrats who think he's too old or too old-fashioned or too pragmatic to be as exciting as Sanders, who's even older.

The last time I saw the rather dour Bloomberg show real excitement was at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, when he said, "I'm from New York, and I know a con man when I see one."

The crowd went nuts. That's the spirit that gets to the heart of what has become the party's biggest unifying issue — unseating Trump, regardless of whether that message is delivered through media or in person.

Clarence Page is a syndicated columnist with the Chicago Tribune.


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months