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Bloomberg can help Democrats, but not by running

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist

There’s already a well-known 70-something centrist running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Michael Bloomberg evidently feels there needs to be another.

Bloomberg, 77, is reportedly ready to join the already crowded Democratic presidential field, even though he’s done no campaigning beyond his home town of New York City. As mayor of New York for three terms, the self-made billionaire was the sort of socially liberal pragmatist many analysts think would have the best shot of beating President Donald Trump in a general election.

The problem for Bloomberg is winning the Democratic presidential nomination. Bloomberg is a political gypsy who spent most of his life as a Democrat, flipped to Republican for the 2001 mayoral race, declared himself an Independent in 2007 and reregistered as a Democrat in 2018. He has generously funded gun-control campaigns and efforts to combat climate change, which are important Democratic issues. He’s far friendlier to business than Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, giving him a better shot with Independents and other swing voters in the general election.

The Democrats already have a candidate like that, though: Joe Biden, the former vice president. There are other centrists in the race, too, including South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and several lesser-knowns. Polls show Biden and Warren at the top of the race, with Sanders and Buttigieg in the second tier. Bloomberg must think the 76-year-old Biden isn’t cutting it and the others don’t have a chance, requiring yet another aging baby boomer to carry the centrist baton.

Do they really need another? Graphic by David Foster

Fund another candidate

But the other candidates have been campaigning and talking to voters while Bloomberg has been in New York writing checks. Bloomberg, worth an estimated $52 billion, has unlimited campaign funds and doesn’t need to worry about fundraising. But money doesn’t always win elections. Jeb Bush was the best-funded Republican in 2016, and Trump smashed him in the primary election because voters wanted a disrupter, not an establishmentarian.

Democratic primary voters might even resent Bloomberg’s late entry and his effort to buy an election. Strategist Greg Valliere of AGF Investments gives Bloomberg a 25% chance of winning the Democratic nomination. Ed Mills of Raymond James thinks another centrist competing with Biden and Buttigieg could help the more liberal Elizabeth Warren. Others think Bloomberg will flame out quickly as voters in key early states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina stick with traditional candidates who have been stumping for months.

If Bloomberg doesn’t turn out to be a competitive candidate, he could still make a difference—by bankrolling somebody who is. Biden would be an obvious choice, since he’s struggling with fund-raising. Warren and Sanders have sworn off big-money donors, but Biden hasn’t. Bloomberg could fund a super PAC that runs ads of Biden’s behalf, attacks competitors and educates voters about controversial programs like Medicare for all, the government-run health care program Warren and Sanders support.

With nearly 20 serious candidates, the Democrats don’t really need another presidential wannabe. But they could use a kingmaker. Maybe that’s the role Bloomberg will assume once his own candidacy fizzles.

Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.

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