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Excitement over Bloomberg’s trial balloon should concern Democrats

There’s never a dull moment in the race to replace President Trump. Last week, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg filed papers in Alabama to appear on the ballot for the state’s Democratic presidential primary. Shortly before that, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke dropped out of the race while rumors circulated that Hillary Clinton might drop in.

If Bloomberg’s filing is the kickoff to a full-fledged campaign, he is a fascinating addition to the Democratic presidential race.

He served twelve years as the mayor of New York City, and he’s the founder of a massive business empire. He has been a registered Democratic, Republican and independent. He has criticized plans by liberal Democrats to raise taxes, but he has angered conservatives by spending millions of dollars to fund campaigns to reduce gun violence and to fight climate change.

Bloomberg took himself out of the presidential race earlier in the year. Why has he changed his mind?

Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. An effective politician is like a canny NFL running back who sees an opening and runs right through it.

A survey conducted in September for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal reveals  an opening in the Democratic race large enough to drive a tank through. Less than one in ten (9 percent) of primary voters had definitely made up their minds about their voting intentions. 

Maybe Bloomberg just checked out Elizabeth Warren’s tax calculator to find out what his tax liability would be if the Massachusetts senator wins the Democratic nomination and becomes president. Estimates put Bloomberg’s wealth at more than $50 billion dollars, and under Warren’s tax plans, he could be on the hook for a more than $3 billion payout to the IRS. Ouch!  

Or perhaps Bloomberg, like many other centrist Democrats, has concluded that former Vice President Joe Biden is not up to the job of stopping Warren or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Moderates doubt whether either Warren or Sanders could beat Trump.

Bloomberg has given generously to liberal groups and candidates. But the defining issue in the Democratic presidential race is support or opposition to “Medicare for All.” His opposition to the proposal and its financing makes him a moderate in the race and a major threat to Biden.

If Bloomberg is serious about a presidential campaign, Biden should be seriously worried. There’s room for only one centrist in the race, and the former vice president’s hold on that spot is already shaky.

The former vice president still leads the field, but his advantage is much smaller than it was back in the spring when he entered the race. Then, he had a massive lead over his nearest competitor, Sanders. Now, the Real Clear Politics average of national polls gives him an eight-percentage point lead over Warren and a 10-point lead over Sanders. 

The last thing the struggling Biden needs is another 70-something moderate in the contest.  Biden’s misadventures have made it difficult for him to raise money, and another well-funded moderate in the race could make the road ahead even more difficult.

Biden is trying to build a firewall against losses in Iowa and New Hampshire with South Carolina and in the Super Tuesday states, where there are large numbers of African American and moderate white primary voters.

Bloomberg would skip Iowa and New Hampshire and focus on the Super Tuesday states, where his vast financial resources would allow him to buy lots of TV time in big markets like Los Angeles and San Francisco in California and Dallas and Houston in Texas. Bloomberg’s ability to spend big in those two big Super Tuesday states would put Biden at a disadvantage.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has risen quickly to become the moderate alternative to Biden. In the last Democratic debate, Mayor Pete aggressively attacked Medicare for All which helped him challenge Biden for the support of centrist Democratic voters. Buttigieg has emerged as a serious threat to the three frontrunners in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

The entrance of another Medicare for All opponent like Bloomberg could be a threat to Buttigieg in his campaign to be the moderate standard bearer.

But the entrance of the 77-year-old Bloomberg into the race would allow the baby-faced 38-year-old to pick a generational fight with the four 70-something candidates, Biden, Bloomberg, Sanders and Warren. If Bloomberg does run and if his campaign takes off, voters can expect to hear a lot from Mayor Pete about the need for a new generation of leadership.

Bloomberg is running because of the threats he sees from the fiscal policies of Warren and Sanders and his concern that the two progressives would falter against Donald Trump next fall. But his candidacy could make it easier for one of the two progressives to win the Democratic presidential nomination if Bloomberg’s candidacy undermines the two leading moderates in the race, Biden and Buttigieg.

One of the perks of being a billionaire is having billionaire buddies. Vox reported that back in February, Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos asked Bloomberg to consider running.

Meanwhile, Warren has been a punching bag for bankers and billionaires since she started criticizing the financial industry before the great Wall Street crash of 2008. Big money attacks on her have intensified since she proposed a wealth tax and then gilded the golden lily with her proposal to increase taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations to pay for health care coverage for working families.

In 2016, the moneyed interests blasted Bernie Sanders. Warren has become their target this time, and she seems to be loving every minute of it. The entry of a billionaire businessman with wealth north of $50 billionaire is a gift from heaven to the Bay State senator.

There are many big “ifs” involved in a Bloomberg candidacy.

Some pundits believe his filing in Alabama may be nothing but a trial balloon to see how his candidacy would be received. Bloomberg has come close to running for president before and then pulled back.

Then there’s a question about whether his money could buy happiness in a Democratic primary. wealthy California businessman Tom Steyer has already spent millions of dollars on his bid for the Democratic nomination and has little or nothing to show for it.

Whether Bloomberg runs or not, the excitement over his trial balloon speaks volumes about the uncertainty in the Democratic contest less than three months before Iowa and New Hampshire.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Deadline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.

Tags 2020 presidential campaign Bernie Sanders Democratic Party Democratic Party Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Jeff Bezos Joe Biden Medicare for all Michael Bloomberg Pete Buttigieg Tom Steyer

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