Bloomberg's path to the convention — and beyond

Mike Bloomberg won't be the Democratic presidential nominee. His possible entry into the contest may have important implications for both the left wing and mainstream contenders. It's not at all clear, however, what that may be and who will be most affected.

With his immense wealth, and willingness to spend it, the former New York City Mayor and business titan can't be dismissed like another billionaire, Tom SteyerThomas (Tom) Fahr SteyerBooker leads other 2020 Dems in petition urging DNC to change debate qualifications Democrats threaten to skip next debate over labor dispute Krystal Ball: Influx of billionaire cash in 2020 contest is 'deeply corrosive' to 'civil society' MORE.

This Bloomberg entry is more serious than his earlier feints, though it won't be a shock if he eventually bows out. Above all, he's a realist.

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If he stays in, some analysts speculate it's a gift, a perfect foil, for Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders 'outraged' after MLB threatens to cut ties with minor league teams Booker leads other 2020 Dems in petition urging DNC to change debate qualifications Democrats threaten to skip next debate over labor dispute MORE and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump executive order aimed at combating anti-Semitism stirs up controversy Booker leads other 2020 Dems in petition urging DNC to change debate qualifications Democrats threaten to skip next debate over labor dispute MORE. Sanders tweeted it shows “the billionaire class is scared and they should be scared.” Warren reveled in reports that Amazon CEO Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Hillicon Valley: Pentagon pushes back on Amazon lawsuit | Lawmakers dismiss Chinese threat to US tech companies | YouTube unveils new anti-harassment policy | Agencies get annual IT grades Pentagon dismisses Amazon questions over Esper's recusal in 'war cloud' case MORE encouraged his fellow billionaire to run.

They will deride Bloomberg’s opposition to a wealth tax, though many liberal politicians and economists also harbor reservations. And they will hammer away at him to release his tax returns, which as mayor he resisted. He'd hate any analogies to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE for whom he has contempt.

Even minimal support peels away from Joe BidenJoe BidenNew York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Graham invites Giuliani to testify about recent Ukraine trip Booker leads other 2020 Dems in petition urging DNC to change debate qualifications MORE, which could doom the former Vice President's campaign.

But another school thinks that with the Democratic Party rules — and his money — Bloomberg could capture a slice of delegates in the huge delegate-rich states, starting with the biggest: California and Texas.

The party rules have done away with winner-take-all contests, setting a threshold of 15 percent of the vote in congressional districts and statewide. A big spending, targeted effort could pick up hundreds of delegates in those venues.

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That might enhance the long-shot chance that no one goes into the Milwaukee convention next July with anywhere near a majority. Under that scenario, the dream of every political journalist, there's a brokered convention.

The Democrats wouldn't turn to Mike Bloomberg, but he'd have a chunk of pledged delegates that could help shape the outcome. His top priorities, other than being president, are to thwart Warren and defeat Trump.

The 77-year-old billionaire brings some exceptional credentials. He created an enormously successful company. (I worked for Bloomberg News for 14 years, a good experience.) A three-term mayor of America's largest city, he's also one of the country's foremost philanthropists.

No one else among presidential candidates, or in any other endeavor, has achieved such success in all three fields.

But his entry into the race last week fell flat, with particular blowback from African-Americans over his policing policies as mayor. He's not a good retail campaigner, is to the right of the Democratic party on major economic issues, and — for all his resources — there are doubts whether he has a 2020-ready campaign team.

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And a rich guy, residing in the White House has given New York billionaires a bad name.

The Bloomberg camp sought to swat away these criticisms. “He's run for office three times as a billionaire and won three times,” his top political strategist, Howard Wolfson, told the New York Times.

Of course, he spent more than a quarter billion dollars of his own money against cash-starved rivals.

If Bloomberg runs, he'll open those deep pockets in the presidential primary contest. He'd probably skip the early contests, focusing on March 3 with its 16 contests, in which nearly 30 percent of the pledged delegates will be elected. These include California and Texas which will be fought on expensive airwaves.

The key would be three or four candidates surviving in this splintered field until summer — still improbable. If so, hypothetically, going into the Democrats' Milwaukee convention, let's assume Warren had 30 percent of pledged delegates, South Bend Ind. Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegBooker leads other 2020 Dems in petition urging DNC to change debate qualifications Buttigieg rolls out endorsements from South Bend officials Democrats threaten to skip next debate over labor dispute MORE had 22 percent, a faltering but still alive Biden had 16 percent, Bloomberg 14 percent, and Sanders, with die-hards, at 13 percent.

On the second ballot the super delegates — elected and party officials — would be eligible to vote and, fearful of a November defeat, likely would tilt against Warren. Bloomberg wouldn't be king… but kingmaker might be an acceptable consolation.

If he stays, ideally he'd get attention for thoughtful ideas on climate change, guns, immigration and trade. Unfortunately, that's likely to be overshadowed by the debate about a billionaire.

Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.