Why Mike Bloomberg has a shot

What a difference a debate makes. In South Carolina last night, Joe Biden found his swing. It was the Biden many of us know and wanted to coax out of the shadows. This is the man who can be both assertive but courteous, relatable but informed, and a serious thinker with a sense of humor.

I was also interested in whether Michael BloombergMichael BloombergTrump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose Bloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida Democratic groups using Bloomberg money to launch M in Spanish language ads in Florida MORE could recover from his stumble at the debate in Las Vegas. You know you are having a bad week when the headline “Bloomberg Tries to Get Past Stumbles Before Super Tuesday” appears in, well, online in Bloomberg News. But here is a tip. Do not judge the setbacks of a candidate by how you see them. It is far more revealing to understand how a candidate views his or her own weaknesses. This is why it is a sheer folly to count Bloomberg out.

I am a strong supporter of Biden, but smart campaign strategists know that the life experience of Bloomberg is a powerful political weapon. His rebounds are well documented in “The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg” written by former New York Times journalist Eleanor Randolph. It could well be the best book about resurrection since the New Testament.


He was fired from Salomon Brothers in 1981, then used a $10 million payout to build a net worth of $64 billion, according to Forbes. Every political campaign he has ever run was initially laughed at by the pundit class. But in each one, he had the last laugh. Consider his first campaign for mayor of New York City in 2001. A political operative called it “kinda goofy” and that echoed the conventional political wisdom at the time.

Bloomberg was a billionaire Republican running in an overwhelming Democratic city. He was facing the highly charismatic Mark Green, the New York City public advocate, and his oratory had the passion of the economics professor played by Ben Stein in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Bloomberg ended up spending more than $73 million, or $98 per vote, according to Randolph, and beat the odds to win the race for mayor.

Then there was his reelection in 2005. Once again, the pundits counted him out. He had raised taxes, which was wildly unpopular, and struggled to climb out of dismal approval ratings. Through April of election year, he was behind in every major poll. However, starting in May, he closed in. A strong economy, a decision to issue tax rebate checks that would arrive just weeks before Election Day, and another $85 million in campaign spending raised him from a political low point to a landslide victory.

Finally, there was his audacious move to overturn the New York City law on term limits, with a one time extension just for him. A referendum to waive term limits for Bloomberg alone was unlikely to pass, especially since New York City voters had passed two separate referendums on term limits. So he took the battle to the overwhelmingly Democratic city council, aided by an army of civic and business leaders. It was hand to hand combat. No one I knew at the time believed it would pass, until it did. Bloomberg was reelected for a third term having spent $102 million, or $174 per vote.

For Bloomberg, any stumbles and setbacks can be cured by both money and tenacity. A charisma deficit can be offset with a healthy infusion of chutzpah. For those who subscribe to the punditry that his Las Vegas debate performance was the beginning of the end, I say this guy has no end. Like the book by Randolph notes, he has many lives. There is more race to be run and more time for resets, recoveries, and resurrections.

Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump, Biden intensify battleground focus as 2020 race tightens Biden allies express confidence as convention begins MORE represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.