Editor’s Note: Robert Alexander, director of the Institute for Civics and Public Policy and professor of political science at Ohio Northern University. He is the author of “Representation and the Electoral College.” Follow him on Twitter: @onuprof. Lauren Copeland is an associate director of the Community Research Institute and assistant professor of political science at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio. She is also the Editor of the Journal of Information Technology & Politics. Follow her on Twitter: @laurencopeland0. The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own. View more opinion at CNN.
More than two dozen Democrats have campaigned to be the party’s nominee for 2020. The field has winnowed considerably, but on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, it’s still not clear who will go head-to-head with President Donald Trump in November. Although Joe Biden remains the frontrunner nationally, Bernie Sanders has been rising steadily in recent polls, which has created quite a stir among many Democrats.
Polls have consistently shown that beating Trump is viewed as the most important issue for Democrats. Typically, Democrats are twice as likely to support a candidate who can beat Trump even if the candidate doesn’t share their views. The Sanders surge has generated concern among some partisans that he may be the most vulnerable Democrat to compete against Trump, given that a majority of Americans have unfavorable views of socialism – which is associated with the Sanders candidacy.
Back in November, discussion of strongly progressive policies such as those backed by Sanders and Elizabeth Warren prompted a warning of sorts from former President Barack Obama, who reminded Democrats that the ultimate goal was to kick Donald Trump out of office and win the presidency. He argued that average Americans do not align “with certain left-leaning Twitter feeds or the activist wing of our party,” and cautioned that the Democratic Party’s policies must be “rooted in reality.”
Around the same time, Michael Bloomberg announced his candidacy. A businessman and former three-term mayor of New York City, Bloomberg contended that he offered a pragmatic option to voters who want to unseat Donald Trump. He has made defeating Trump the centerpiece of his campaign, referring to the president as “reckless,” “unethical,” and as representing “an existential threat to our country and values.” Given Democrats’ appetite to unseat Trump, Bloomberg’s pitch, his vast resources and a muddled field of fellow Democrats could see him emerge as the Democrats’ surprise choice to take on the president this November.
To the chagrin of some, it is Bloomberg’s money that makes him such a formidable candidate. Some Democrats are uncomfortable with Bloomberg’s wealth given the party’s attention to economic inequality. Still, money is essential in a presidential campaign. To this point, political columnist, John Ellis, predicted that Bloomberg would be able to outspend Trump by a 5-1 margin, but any other Democratic nominee may be outspent by a 2-1 or even 3-1 margin.
While we can’t know for sure whether Ellis’ claims are true, we do know a total of $2.4 billion was spent for the entire 2016 presidential contest. We also know that apart from the other billionaire Democrat in the race, Tom Steyer, Bloomberg has spent 25 percent more than the rest of the Democratic field combined. Keep in mind that Bloomberg isn’t even competing in the first four contests.
Bloomberg’s net worth of $60 billion provides him with virtually unlimited campaign funds. So far, he has hired a staff of more than 800 people and spent well over $200 million, and has taken out a $10 million, 60-second spot during the Super Bowl. Taking a page out of Trump’s 2016 campaign, he has made the case that he cannot be bought by special interests. Bloomberg has set his sights directly on the President and has made no bones about trying to get under Trump’s skin.
At first look, it would appear that Trump and Bloomberg have a lot in common. Both are New Yorkers. Both have identified as Democrats, Independents and Republicans. Both are also billionaires. This latter fact may be a point of contention between the two as they compare fortunes (estimates put Bloomberg’s net worth at 17 times greater than Trump’s net worth). Yet, they differ significantly on policy issues such as gun control, immigration reform, abortion and climate change. A stark contrast is also apparent when comparing their temperament.
Bloomberg has gotten the President’s attention as Trump recently dubbed him “Mini Mike,” and called him a “clown.” This is exactly the type of attack that suggests Bloomberg should be taken seriously by those who want to beat Trump.
The “Bloomberg Blitz” is very real and it appears to be paying dividends. He has savagely attacked Trump in a barrage of media ads on television, radio, and social media. He has drawn attention to his campaign with a mischievous Twitter feed during Democratic debates. Additionally, he has set himself apart from the field as a businessman who knows how to get things done in politics. He consistently highlights his electability against Trump, seeking to prove himself to be an alternative to those unconvinced Joe Biden is best suited to compete against the President.
As a moderate Democrat, Bloomberg needs Biden to falter a bit in order for voters to give him a closer look. Although he was a late entrant and has yet to compete in a Democratic debate, his support has risen steadily, and recently he has been battling with Elizabeth Warren for third place behind Biden and Sanders in national polls.
Bloomberg’s more moderate voice would seem to make for an attractive choice in a general election campaign. Our own poll of prospective voters in the key swing states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio – any three of which are likely needed to win the presidency – finds that many believe that both parties have veered too far away from the center. When asked their thoughts on this topic, 46% to 50% of Independents agreed that the Republican party has drifted too far to the right and 49% to 53% of Independents agreed that the Democrats have gone too far to the left. These are the voters Bloomberg aims to capture in a November contest.
Within the Democratic party, we found a sizable number – 25% to 29% – who believe their own party has veered too far to the left. This suggests Bloomberg has an audience among primary voters, although he faces a lot of competition from Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar to woo them.
Bloomberg has skipped campaigning in early states, focusing his attention on getting a bounce on Super Tuesday (March 3). This is a risky strategy and one that has not fared well in the past – Rudy Giuliani in 2008 and Al Gore in 1988 had similar plans, and neither won the nomination. Bloomberg appears to be better set up than them with his name recognition, enormous wealth, party rules, and his garnering of a number of important party endorsements.
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In an important change, the Democratic National Committee has eliminated the donor threshold that kept Bloomberg – and candidates like Cory Booker – from the debate stage in previous debates. It is possible Bloomberg will make the debate stage in mid-February, just in time for him to make a strong Super Tuesday pitch to voters.
Bloomberg’s unconventional path to the nomination will undoubtedly require some luck. But if there is murkiness at the top of the field coming out of the first few contests, Bloomberg would have an opportunity to sell himself to an uncertain Democratic electorate. While not the perfect candidate, Bloomberg’s ability to convince that electorate he is best positioned to defeat Trump may be just what they are looking for – especially in critical swing states.