MANASSAS, VA - MARCH 02: Democratic presidential candidate, former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg participates in a Fox News town hall held at the Hilton Performing Arts Center at George Mason on March 2, 2020 in Manassas, VA. Mr. Bloomberg appeared in the FOX News Town Hall co-moderated by Special Report's Bret Baier alongside The Story's Martha MacCallum the evening before voting starts on Super Tuesday. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Bloomberg delivers speech after suspending his campaign
01:58 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

Billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer this week learned first-hand what other uber-wealthy politicians have discovered over the years: Money can’t buy you voters’ love.

Steyer, a hedge-fund founder, ended his campaign on Saturday following a disappointing third-place finish in South Carolina, a state in which he had invested heavily and early to court African-American voters.

Bloomberg on Wednesday ended his bid – after plowing more than half a billion dollars of his vast media and financial-data fortune into advertising and emerging from Super Tuesday’s coast-to-coast contests notching only a single victory: American Samoa, a tiny US territory in the Pacific.

Tuesday’s state-by-state results starkly illustrate money’s limits.

In Virginia, for instance, a Bloomberg-funded gun safety group had plowed millions into state-level contests last year to help Democrats take control of the state’s executive and legislative branches for the first time in a generation.

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Bloomberg backed that up this year with nearly $18 million in advertising in the state to promote his own White House bid.

But Former Vice President Joe Biden, who spent a little more than $233,000 to run ads in Virginia, rode the momentum of his South Carolina victory to trounce his rivals and capture 48 of the 99 delegates that were up grabs in the Old Dominion State.

Before dropping out, the two billionaires had spent a combined $783.9 million on advertising alone, according to a tally by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.

“We always say money is essential, but it’s not sufficient,” said Sheila Krumholz, who as executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, has spent years tracking money in politics.

“Money is a double-edge sword: Yes, it gives you instant credibility in terms of having the resources to go the distance,” she said. “But it never makes up for getting out there and spending time with voters and hearing what they want and practicing your pitch.”

Bloomberg spent lavishly on advertising to cast himself as the alternative to President Donald Trump and to build a staff of more than 2,000 people, but the former three-term New York mayor skipped the first four nominating contests and the retail campaigning that goes along with winning support in early states, such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

The lack of practice was quickly apparent when Bloomberg made his first lengthy unscripted appearance before a national audience of voters at last month’s televised debate in Las Vegas.

Under attack from his rivals over his policing policies as New York mayor and treatment of women in his private enterprises, he delivered a flat-footed performance that undercut the central argument of his campaign: that he was the candidate best equipped to confront Trump in November.

(Bloomberg’s exit Wednesday also means he won’t have to make public details about his estimated $60 billion fortune. He was due to file his first personal financial disclosure report with federal election regulators on March 20. Now that he’s dropped out, the requirement for public disclosure also goes away.)

It may be small comfort, but Bloomberg and Steyer have plenty of company in the annals of super-rich candidates who have faltered. They include Ross Perot, the late Texas billionaire who twice sought the presidency unsuccessfully as a third-party candidate in the 1990s to tech executive Meg Whitman, who plowed a then-record $144 million of her fortune into campaigning for the California governor in 2010 and lost to Democrat Jerry Brown.

Despite their losses, Bloomberg and Steyer still are expected to influence White House race in the months ahead. They each have a long history as political donors and oversee their own super PACs and voter-outreach organizations.

On Wednesday, Bloomberg made clear where his money will now go: He endorsed Biden.

“While I will not be the nominee,” Bloomberg said, in an email to supporters, “I will not walk away from the most important political fight of my life.”

CORRECTION: The headline on this story has been updated to accurately reflect the amount of money Bloomberg and Steyer spent on the election.