Unprecedented ad drive puts Bloomberg on political map
Michael Bloomberg’s massive air war is starting to pay off, as the former New York City mayor appears to be gaining traction in new national polls even though he’s not running in the early-voting states and hasn’t been on stage for any of the Democratic debates.
Bloomberg has been staffing up and opening offices in Super Tuesday states, and his advertisements have been ubiquitous on television and social media amid an unprecedented spending spree that has already surpassed well over $100 million. A new Harris X survey released over the weekend is the first to suggest this strategy might be working, finding Bloomberg in third place and tied with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at 11 percent support nationally.
The former New York City mayor has exceeded the polling requirements to qualify for the January debate — something only five other candidates have done — but he’s self-funding his campaign, so will not meet the donor thresholds.
There is deep skepticism about whether Bloomberg’s strategy of skipping the first four primary and caucus states can be a winning strategy. It’s never been tried before on this scale.
And despite his record of activism for liberal causes, Bloomberg is despised on the left, where there is little appetite for a billionaire with a centrist record.
But Bloomberg has the resources to go the distance, and Democrats say there is a surprising well of goodwill for him among moderates in the party. Some see an opening for Bloomberg if the field continues to be divided.
“He has great people and a real organization and all the money he needs to keep going,” said one Democratic strategist who is unaffiliated. “His name recognition is through the roof and he’s been at the forefront on issues the grassroots care about, like gun control and climate change.
“He’s got offices and he’s making appearances in all of these states where there are a big number of delegates at stake, and he could absolutely come away with some of those.”
Most public opinion surveys find Bloomberg languishing in the low to mid-single digits.
A recent Harvard CAPS-Harris national survey found Bloomberg at 7 percent support, good enough for a fourth-place tie with former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D). Bloomberg is at 5 percent nationally in the latest Reuters-Ipsos survey, ahead of Buttigieg, and Morning Consult finds him at 6 percent.
Bloomberg is several points ahead of fellow billionaire Tom Steyer, who has similarly drenched the airwaves with ads and has spent more than $100 million of his own money.
But while the Morning Consult survey found that Bloomberg is better known among Democrats than Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), his unfavorable rating is higher than anyone running except for Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). Bloomberg is viewed positively by 42 percent of Democrats, against 27 percent who view him negatively.
Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray said that Bloomberg’s name recognition in early 2019 was good enough to earn him 2 to 4 points of support in the polls and that the tens of millions he’s spent in the interim had only bought him about 3 points, pushing him into the 5 to 7 percent range.
“There’s not a lot of evidence that you can buy relevance,” Murray said. “If you look at the structure of how voters generally make decisions, you have to be on a debate stage and be one of the candidates voters are seeing in early states. Voters who are undecided now have a lot of choices they’re happy with and by the time the first states winnow it down, it seems unlikely that they’re going to be looking for someone else.”
Bloomberg has spent more than $20 million on Facebook and Google advertising since launching his campaign in November — more than any other Democratic presidential hopeful spent in 2019 — according to the Democratic digital firm Bully Pulpit Interactive.
That digital spending pales in comparison to his television spending. According to Advertising Analytics, a firm that tracks ad spending, Bloomberg has already spent more than $120 million on TV ads since kicking off his presidential bid, exceeding the advertising budgets of his rivals.
Advertising Analytics projects Bloomberg could end up spending $300 million to $400 million on advertising in all media before Super Tuesday.
The former New York City mayor has also assembled one of the most expansive staffing operations in the Democratic field. He has more than 800 staffers on his campaign payroll, with more than 500 spread across 30 states and roughly 300 in the campaign’s New York City headquarters alone, according to a Bloomberg aide.
Bloomberg’s early focus has been on Super Tuesday states, where many of his rivals are not up and running yet. For instance, Bloomberg already has eight staffers in North Carolina and seven in Tennessee.
He’s also homed in on Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, which will be pivotal in determining the outcome of the general election against President Trump. Bloomberg has opened offices in Philadelphia, Detroit and Milwaukee, and he’s holding events and running ads in all three states.
But for all his investments, Bloomberg has drawn the ire of the Democratic Party’s ascendant left flank, led by candidates like Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Progressives have accused Bloomberg and other wealthy candidates, like Steyer, of trying to buy the party’s nomination.
Jonathan Tasini, a progressive strategist and national surrogate for Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, said that Bloomberg’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination are “somewhere between nonexistent and zero.”
“Here’s the interesting thing about money: It’s unlimited, but it has a limit because the party’s mood and energy is not with someone of the profile of Michael Bloomberg.”
But even if he doesn’t win the nomination, Bloomberg could wield some influence over the nominating process, Tasini said. If no candidate manages to win enough delegates to clinch the nomination ahead of the Democratic National Convention in July, Bloomberg could throw his support behind one of his competitors, potentially boosting a like-minded candidate.
“Bloomberg may come in with 100 delegates or 150 delegates,” Tasini said. “At that point he’s in the metaphorical room.”
“What comes from that obviously is a decision of where he thinks the party should be. I’m going to make a wild guess that that’s not going to be the Elizabeth Warren/Bernie Sanders wing of the party.”