Michael Bloomberg could indeed buy the Democratic primary

Michael Bloomberg could indeed buy the Democratic primary

Can Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergTrump campaign exploits Bloomberg News blunder Tim Black: Did Michael Bloomberg lie about stop and frisk? Poll: Trump leads 2020 Democratic candidates in Michigan MORE’s billions buy the Democratic presidential nomination? It’s possible. All he needs to do is gather enough delegates on Super Tuesday to be a credible contestant and help force the party to a brokered convention, and then call in some favors. Lots of favors. He can do that.

The former New York City mayor spent $65 million helping Democrats during the 2016 election cycle, and another $100 million or so in 2018 helping to flip the House blue. That means there are a lot of candidates, party officials and activists who owe Bloomberg. Those folks will show up at the convention in Milwaukee next year as super delegates, perhaps ready to make him the candidate.

That’s why he kicked off his campaign in Virginia, a state that went to Democrats in 2018, in part thanks to Bloomberg. He wanted to showcase his clout in the party.

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Since 2011 the former mayor has thrown $6 million into Virginia, producing wins for several Democrats who consequently took over the state legislature for the first time in two decades. Much of that money flowed through a gun control advocacy group, Everytown For Gun Safety, funded by Bloomberg. That organization provided campaign cash to 22 House and Senate races in the state, producing 15 wins.

A great many of those candidates will become super delegates, who could provide pivotal votes for Bloomberg at the Democratic convention should no one win a majority on the first round of balloting. They will look kindly on Bloomberg’s quest, especially if he hints he’ll be around come reelection time. This isn’t illegal or corrupt; this is politics.

That doesn’t mean the approach will be viewed kindly by rivals who have been slugging it out on the campaign trail. In this era, to have the globe’s 11th richest man swoop in and grab a presidential nomination out from under their noses is the ultimate insult to others in the race, and especially to the likes of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate The media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Steyer rolls out 5B plan to invest in historically black colleges MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Buttigieg surrogate on candidate's past consulting work: 'I don't think it matters' Steyer rolls out 5B plan to invest in historically black colleges MORE (D-Mass.), who vilify wealth and success on a daily basis. Both have already attacked the billionaire, with Warren saying that Bloomberg “is making a bet about democracy in 2020. He doesn’t need people. He only needs bags and bags of money.” 

Should Bloomberg capture the nomination by successfully manipulating a brokered convention, followers of those progressive candidates, who today constitute nearly 40 percent of the Democratic primary electorate, might stay home on Election Day. That happened in 2016, when a slug of Bernie Sanders’ fans, irate over what they perceived to be cheating by the DNC on behalf of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDOJ backs ex-Trump campaign aide Rick Gates's probation request The media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Trump request for Ukrainian 'favor' tops notable quote list MORE, simply did not vote.

But before he strategizes about how to attract those voters and win the general election, Bloomberg needs the nomination.

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How does a brokered convention work? It’s a process most voters don’t know much about; the last such convention took place in 1924, when it took Democrats 16 days and 103 ballots to nominate John W. Davis, former ambassador to the United Kingdom. And not since 1952 has voting gone more than one round.

Why is this unusual event a possibility now?  

After Bernie Sanders’ followers complained that Democratic procedures had given former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton an unfair advantage in 2016, party officials made an important rule change. They reduced the power of the so-called super delegates, many of whom had committed to Hillary even before the contest had begun.  

In 2016, Sanders’ followers were irate that their man could well have won more delegates through the individual state primary contests but lost at the party confab thanks to the outsize clout of party insiders, or super delegates.

Last year party officials agreed that super delegates would not be allowed to cast votes on the first ballot unless a nominee has won a majority of the pledged delegates awarded through the primaries.  

If a candidate wins a majority in that first round, he or she will be the nominee.

If that doesn’t happen, the vote goes to a second round, and in that next ballot the super delegates could well determine the outcome. That’s when Mike’s due bills would come in handy.

Given that there are still more than a dozen candidates running, and that several are well financed, it seems possible that no one candidate will secure the nomination on the first round.

Joe BidenJoe BidenThe media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Top Zelensky aide refutes Sondland testimony The great AI debate: What candidates are (finally) saying about artificial intelligence MORE, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Mayor Pete Buttgieg and of course Mike Bloomberg all have plenty of dough to fund their run until the convention. Though his campaign hasn’t caught fire, billionaire Tom SteyerThomas (Tom) Fahr SteyerSteyer rolls out 5B plan to invest in historically black colleges Gabbard says she won't participate in next debate even if she qualifies Emanuel jokes: 'I'm a new, mellow Rahm' MORE has lots of money; he, too, could stay in the race, though it’s unlikely.

Since Democratic primaries are not winner-take-all, but rather award delegates proportionately, numerous participants will walk away from the many contests with delegates in hand. That makes it tough for any one candidate to secure more than 50 percent of the total on the first ballot.

For instance, on February 3 Iowa voters will choose 49 delegates, of which 41 are pledged delegates. Any candidate who earns 15 percent of the caucus tallies will put some delegates in his or her column. Currently, that means Buttigieg (leading in that state), Warren, Sanders and Biden would all bank some votes.  

In New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, the same situation prevails, where more than one candidate will pocket some delegates.

Bloomberg has said he will not participate in those four early-voting states but rather jump all-in on Super Tuesday, which takes place on March 3. Some 14 states will vote that day (and also American Samoa), including delegate-rich Texas and California.

Bloomberg will hope that he and others snag enough votes to push the convention to a second round of voting. And then he will call in favors from party insiders. Nominee Bloomberg could be the outcome.

Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. Follow her on Twitter @lizpeek.