Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's expected entrance into the 2020 race is being interpreted by many Democrats as a clear challenge to former Vice President Joe Biden's moderate presidential bid.
Bloomberg is reportedly preparing to file paperwork in the coming days to run in at least one state after announcing last March that he wouldn't join the race. His decision to stay out of the race earlier this year was widely perceived as a vote of confidence in Biden's candidacy.
But in recent months, many moderate Democrats have sounded the alarm as Biden faces an increasingly strong challenge from Sen. Elizabeth Warren while being dogged by a series of gaffes and concerningly low fundraising numbers.
“The reason that Mike chose not to run back in March was out of respect for Biden's ability as a candidate, but the results just have not been there so far,” Bradley Tusk, a venture capitalist and former campaign manager for Bloomberg, told Insider.
Biden finished the third quarter of 2019 with just $8.9 million in cash on hand, as compared with Sen. Bernie Sanders' $33.7 million and Warren's $25.7 million in cash on hand.
Adrienne Elrod, a strategist and former spokesperson for Hillary Clinton, said she has “real concerns” about the way Biden's campaign has spent its money, including almost $1 million on private planes. She surmised that Bloomberg is “genuinely concerned” about Biden's dependence on Wall Street donors and a new Super PAC. With an estimated net worth of nearly $52 billion, Bloomberg is particularly well-positioned to beat Biden on this metric.
“We are sort of at a dire point in this race,” Elrod told Insider. “Is Joe Biden still the one that poll after poll shows that he's the most electable against Trump? Absolutely. But, even if he is, right now he doesn't really have the resources to do it.”
But many Democrats argue Bloomberg's chances are slim against Biden, who's benefited from decades in the national political spotlight and has developed deep loyalty among a broad segment of the Democratic base.
Rebecca Katz, a progressive New York City-based strategist, said Bloomberg might eat into Biden's support among the party's pundits, or what she called “the chattering class,” but that he can't compete with the former vice president's wide national appeal.
“They'll attract many of the same voters along the Acela corridor, but Biden has a much bigger and deeper and more diverse base nationwide than Bloomberg does,” Katz told Insider.
She added that Bloomberg will likely be hurt by his record on race relations, including his support for the NYPD's former “stop and frisk” policy, which has been deemed unconstitutional by a federal court. And she predicted that his entrance into the race will hurt second-tier candidates like Sens. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Amy Klobuchar more than Biden.
There is also the potential that Bloomberg's candidacy could invigorate Sanders' and Warren's campaigns by splitting votes with Biden and presenting the two progressive populists with a billionaire foil. Warren began fundraising off of the news on Thursday night, telling her supporters that the “wealthy and well-connected are scared.” She tweeted out a link to her policy on how billionaires should be taxed.
Peter Beinart, a progressive commentator at The Atlantic, argued on Friday that Bloomberg is “empowering the very forces that he means to thwart.”
A path to the nomination?
Many Democrats doubt Bloomberg has a real shot of clinching the nomination.
On top of his controversial record on race and policing in New York, he twice ran for mayor as a Republican. And that's not all he'll have to contend with among the Democratic primary electorate.
“The ads that any candidate can throw up against Mayor Bloomberg are written for you right here — do we really need another white billionaire who used to be a Republican to come in and save the day?” Elrod said.
David Axelrod, President Barack Obama's former top adviser, tweeted that Bloomberg's path to the nomination “is not obvious” in part because he doesn't have as much support among voters of color as Biden does.
“It's going to require to a certain extent believing voters will say the most important thing is getting rid of Trump,” Tusk told Insider.
Katz said she doesn't envision Bloomberg doing particularly well in crucial swing states in a general election against Trump.
“I see Bloomberg probably tracking a little bit better than Hillary did in the Philadelphia suburbs,” she said. “I see him doing a lot worse in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and overall in the state than Hillary did in 2016.”
But Bloomberg also has key strengths that make an entrance this late in the game feasible. He won't have to worry about fundraising and will have a leg up on many other Democrats who can't afford as many paid TV ads and mailers as he can.
Because of his extensive network, long record in politics and business, and significant philanthropic efforts over the years, including his own Bloomberg philanthropies, he'll also have an experienced and well-paid set of campaign advisers and surrogates. And he's well-respected among the New York media, which could help boost his name recognition.
Bloomberg has also faced an unlikely race before. He was a political neophyte when he succeeded Rudy Giuliani as New York's mayor in 2002, and he won two more terms in a largely progressive city despite his centrist leanings.
“Mike Bloomberg made his fortune in data and he has a political team that's worked together now for two decades and won lots of elections and he has a lot of resources, so for someone coming into the game as late as he is, he's the best prepared you could possibly be,” Tusk said.