Democrats slam Bloomberg for “buying his way” into the election: “The billionaire class is scared”

Bloomberg has been accused of self-funding "vanity run" as polls show he’s hugely unpopular among Democratic voters

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published November 8, 2019 11:51AM (EST)

Michael Bloomberg (Getty/Lukas Schulze)
Michael Bloomberg (Getty/Lukas Schulze)

Democratic candidates in the still crowded field vying for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination hit out at Mike Bloomberg over reports that he is preparing to enter the race.

Bloomberg, a media mogul whose net worth is estimated at $52 billion by Forbes, is expected to file for the presidential primary in Alabama, the New York Times first reported Thursday. The deadline to file in the state is Friday.

Bloomberg, who only registered as a Democrat last year, and his advisers have reached out to top Democrats in recent days to inform them that he was “seriously considering” entering the race, according to the report. Though he has previously flirted with launching a presidential bid, this is the first time he would file to appear on the ballot. Several other states, including New Hampshire, have primary filing deadlines next week. Though he has not made a final decision on whether he will run, Axios reports that he has ruled out a later run as a third-party candidate “partly because of ballot-access hurdles.”

Bloomberg’s foray into the race was met with derision by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who have focused their presidential campaigns on the theme of reversing the decades-long trend of billionaires getting richer at the expense of everyone else.

“The billionaire class is scared,” Sanders tweeted after the news of Bloomberg’s bid broke, “and they should be scared.”

Bloomberg previously announced in March that he would not run for president.

Warren, for her part, welcomed Bloomberg to the race by urging him to check out how much he would pay under her proposed wealth tax.

“If you’re looking for policy plans that will make a huge difference for working people and which are very popular, start here,” she wrote, linking to her “Calculator for Billionaires” which shows that Bloomberg would pay $3.079 billion next year under the wealth tax.

In a fundraising email to supporters, the Warren campaign called Bloomberg’s candidacy “another example of the wealthy wanting our government and economy to only work for themselves.”

Even Gov. Steve Bullock, the centrist governor of Montana who has been highly critical of Sanders’ and Warrens’ proposals, wrote that “we don't need another billionaire buying his way into this election.”

Sources close to Bloomberg insisted to Axios that the former mayor’s wealth will actually help him in the race.

"Mike will spend whatever it takes to defeat Donald Trump," one source told the outlet, claiming that "the nation is about to see a very different campaign than we’ve ever seen before."

Of course, there is already a billionaire in the race who has spent nearly $50 million of his own money. That splurge has earned former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer 2 to 3 percent support in the polls in Iowa and one total endorsement, even as his campaign aide reportedly offered cash for support to Iowa lawmakers, suggesting that money alone will not go far in a Democratic race where economic inequality is a central tenant.

Many criticized Bloomberg for self-funding a “vanity run,” which was unlikely to succeed. Bloomberg’s own advisers concluded earlier this year that he would have difficulty winning over voters in a race with former Vice President Joe Biden, who is running in the same centrist lane. A Fox News poll found in October that just 6 percent of Democrats would back his run, while 32 percent said they would never vote for him. A March CNN/Des Moines Register poll found that Bloomberg was one of the least popular potential candidates.

“The thing is Steyer & Bloomberg were both financing genuinely useful political activity that was making a real difference,” tweeted Vox co-founder Matthew Yglesias. “Sad to see that displaced by vanity runs.”

Bloomberg previously vowed to spend $500 million to defeat Trump in 2020. Many Democrats have called for Bloomberg and Steyer to fund state races instead of their own bids.

Despite his unpopularity in the Democratic Party, and his unpopularity among all voters, one of Bloomberg’s top advisers told CNN the former New York mayor has the ability to “ensure that Trump is defeated” and does not believe the current field is “well-positioned to do that.” Polls have shown both Sanders and Warren, as well as multiple other candidates leading Trump by double-digits. No poll has shown Bloomberg leading Trump.

While some view Bloomberg’s bid as a response to the rise of anti-billionaire candidates like Warren and Sanders, sources close to the former mayor told Axios that he was jumping into the race, “because he believes that Joe Biden is fading.” Though Biden remains the frontrunner nationally, his poll numbers in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire have plummeted in recent weeks.

"Bloomberg's decision to enter tells us what we already know: Both Sanders and Warren have real paths to victory,” wrote activist Jonathan Cohn, “and big donors are afraid that Biden increasingly doesn't."

There is no shortage of centrist Democrats in the race. Though Biden is the most prominent, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar have risen slightly in the polls while running on a centrist message and many less popular candidates like Bullock and Colorado Sen. Michael Benet have done the same. Former Attorney General Eric Holder is also considering a late bid for the Democrats’ moderate lane, according to The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson.

With poll numbers much worse than Biden’s and numerous competitors pushing a similar message, some analysts predicted that Bloomberg’s run would only help President Donald Trump by feeding the dubious narrative that the current frontrunners aren’t strong enough to defeat him.

“For months now, the media have been reporting about alleged ‘anxiety’ about the party’s chances, the ‘uncertainty’ in the field, and the ‘weakness of the Democratic field’” even though there is “little actual evidence of frustration among the rank-and-file,” wrote Guardian columnist Cas Mudde. “In short, Bloomberg’s entrance in the race is not evidence of grassroots dissatisfaction among the Democratic base. Rather, it is evidence of a centrist political establishment that worries that its days of influence and power are numbered.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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