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Bloomberg: Will the candidate measure up to the campaign architect?

Bloomberg: Will the candidate measure up to the campaign architect?
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In the Democratic presidential debate Wednesday in Las Vegas, Michael BloombergMichael BloombergYang: 'Defund the police is the wrong approach for New York City' New York mayoral candidates go viral for vastly underestimating housing costs Melinda Gates tapped divorce lawyers in 2019 after Epstein links to husband: report MORE the candidate badly underperformed Michael Bloomberg the brilliant campaign architect.

Architect will insulate candidate this time, preserving the hopes of many center-right Democrats that he can prevail over front-runner Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersStudy: Early unemployment cutoff would cost 16M people 0B Machine Gun Kelly reveals how Bernie Sanders aided him in his relationship with Megan Fox Overnight Health Care: CDC approves Pfizer vaccine for adolescents aged 12-15 | House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill | Panel blasts COVID-19 response MORE (I-Vt.), an ardent socialist whom they consider unelectable. 

Before the debate, Bloomberg the campaign architect had maneuvered Bloomberg the candidate into third place in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls. Most likely, former vice president Joe BidenJoe BidenFauci says school should be open 'full blast' five days a week in the fall Overnight Defense: Military sexual assault reform bill has votes to pass in Senate l First active duty service member arrested over Jan. 6 riot l Israeli troops attack Gaza Strip Immigration experts say GOP senators questioned DHS secretary with misleading chart MORE’s epic collapse will soon leave Bloomberg in second place behind Sanders, setting up the showdown that is the predicate of Bloomberg’s candidacy.

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None of this would have seemed remotely possible listening to political pundits last November. They dismissed Bloomberg’s bid with several trite “truisms” about political tradecraft: Money can’t buy the presidency; his late entry would be fatal; he’d fall hopelessly behind by skipping the first four contests; his policy stands are all over the map, so he has no natural following or base.

Well, his $50 billion to $66 billion (estimates vary) provide him a tremendous advantage, and there’s a compelling rationale for skipping the first four contests. To flip a popular saying, you can’t lose it if you’re not in it. 

Not being on the ballot guaranteed Bloomberg’s survival post-Iowa and post-New Hampshire, and it insulates him from paying the normal price, in Nevada and South Carolina, for his dismal debate performance in Las Vegas.

There’s no such safety net for the other candidates, who failed to carry out their necessary debate mission — namely, to slow a surging Sanders. Instead, they attacked Bloomberg and each other in a badly moderated food fight. Biden and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren says Republican Party 'eating itself and it is discovering that the meal is poisonous' Briahna Joy Gray: Warren not endorsing Sanders in 2020 was 'really frustrating' McConnell hits Democratic critics of Israel MORE (D-Mass.) won’t be so fortunate. Neither did anything dramatic to revive themselves in Las Vegas following poor finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.

So, unless pre-publication polling is totally wrong, Sanders will win resoundingly Saturday in Nevada’s caucuses. A big Sanders victory means yet another defeat, and perhaps a fatal one, for all the other candidates. That includes Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegBiden says he and GOP both 'sincere about' seeking infrastructure compromise The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Colonial pays hackers as service is restored The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden expresses optimism on bipartisanship; Cheney ousted MORE, former mayor of South Bend, Ind., for whom it would create a serious loss of momentum going into South Carolina where his lack of black support is sure to be fatal.

And in South Carolina? Rinse and repeat, with the ultimate result being an end to these other candidacies.

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So, then, the real race will begin, manifesting the other reason for Bloomberg to have skipped the first four contests: They are inconsequential with only a combined 155 delegates, or 4 percent of all delegates available. 

Bloomberg has focused exclusively upon the one contest that really matters, Super Tuesday on March 3, when 14 states and more than 35 percent of the party’s delegates are at stake. This contest is as fateful as the Ides of March. 

Bloomberg has been running unopposed on this critical battleground for three months.

Last month, the Texas Tribune reported that the Bloomberg campaign would have 150 staffers in the Lone Star State by January’s end. At the beginning of this month, the Bloomberg campaign announced that it had 300 staffers in California and planned 500 more in a matter of days.

Recently, Buttigieg announced that he was sending 24 staffers to Texas. The difference in scale and timing is stunning.

What is even more stunning is Bloomberg’s dominance of the airwaves. He has spent about $400 million on TV ads, primarily in Super Tuesday states. Apart from Sanders and the vanity campaign of billionaire Tom SteyerTom SteyerTop 12 political donors accounted for almost 1 of every 13 dollars raised since 2009: study California Democrats weigh their recall options Why we should be leery of companies entering political fray MORE, no other candidate has spent more than $1 million outside of the first four primary states, according to data that Kantar/Campaign Media Analysis Group is providing FiveThirtyEight. 

Bloomberg’s massive ground game has been in operation for quite some time. This is the logistical side of politics. (Remember the old saying that armchair generals talk strategy, while battle-tested generals talk logistics.)

On the issues, Bloomberg has been all over the map — with carefully crafted messaging on health care, gun control, climate change, etc., running on TV stations nationwide.

What has Bloomberg, the architect, achieved? The latest polls show him tied with Sanders for the lead in North Carolina (110 delegates) and Virginia (99 delegates), and only four points behind Sanders in California (416 delegates).

Moreover, Bloomberg has several straightforward advantages. With Biden imploding, the former vice president’s large following of black voters is up for grabs. Despite Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk policing policy as New York’s mayor, he is a likelier beneficiary of Biden’s lost following than Mayor Pete, with miniscule black support in all polls, or Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Klobuchar Klobuchar offers tribute to her father, who died Wednesday The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting Senate panel deadlocks in vote on sweeping elections bill MORE (D-Minn.), whose constituency is amongst the whitest in the country.

On experience, Bloomberg is an unrivaled standout as a three-term mayor of the country’s largest and most diverse city and a stunningly successful business entrepreneur.

However, none of this can overcome another dismal debate performance by him. The debate in Charleston, S.C., next Tuesday is all important. Coming just days from now, it offers Bloomberg a redo before his Las Vegas debate disaster becomes indelible, and it is the last debate before Super Tuesday one week later.

Assuming Bloomberg the candidate delivers a creditable performance — a critical assumption — and focusing on the one and only issue for all Democrats (beating Donald TrumpDonald TrumpProject Veritas surveilled government officials to expose anti-Trump sentiments: report Cheney: Fox News has 'a particular obligation' to refute election fraud claims The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? MORE), I know who  I’d pick if I were a Democrat.

As for the civil war between the party’s “Sandernistas” and center-right Democrats, the party will reconcile. The enemy of my enemy is my friend — and the enemy of my worst enemy is my best friend. 

Democrats have taken an amazingly long time to take Bloomberg seriously. As a Republican, I hope the president hasn’t done so, too. After all, the same logic that makes Mayor Mike the strongest Democratic primary candidate makes him a truly formidable opponent in November.

Red Jahncke is president of Townsend Group International, a business consultancy headquartered in Connecticut. Follow him on Twitter @RedJahncke.