Bernie Sanders’ expected ascension in Iowa is sure to concern moderate Democrats who find his politics too liberal and his rhetoric too doctrinaire. Meanwhile, the beating Biden appeared to take bodes well for Bloomberg’s rationale that he is the most electable Democrat running in the crowded field.
Indeed, the entire situation vindicated Bloomberg’s unusual strategy of skipping the caucus — a move that was likely rooted as much in face-saving as in challenging the status quo. Bloomberg’s late entry into the primary all but rendered him untenable in a state that demands months of retail politicking.
“Yesterday I hear something happened in Iowa. Or didn’t happen. I don’t know which,” Bloomberg quipped before an audience at a campaign stop in Detroit Tuesday afternoon.
Pouncing on the misfortune of his Democratic rivals, Bloomberg’s campaign said Tuesday it will double the size of its already mammoth national ad campaign. The former mayor has spent $315 million so far on the airwaves. The campaign, which has about 1,500 employees, will also continue to add field staff at a rapid clip. Those moves were first reported by the New York Times.
Bloomberg’s campaign likened the confusion in Iowa to an unfortunate distraction from Democrats’ task of beating Trump. Aides sought to draw a contrast between the mess in Iowa and Bloomberg’s swing-state battleplan and exclusive focus on the president.
Early in the night Monday, as the delay in calling the race looked to become a staple of the caucus, Bloomberg dispatched his campaign manager to TV to needle the byzantine process.
Kevin Sheeky, who along with Bloomberg in recent weeks declared that Iowa’s protected status should be revoked in favor of a battleground state, joked that Americans would have had their results quickly with access to Bloomberg’s trademark computer terminal.
“Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t really feel like a primary should be a board game,” Sheekey told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “I’ve had better luck having my nephew explain Minecraft to me than to understand what’s going on in Iowa tonight.”
He also took a prementive shot at Pete Buttigieg, for now the moderate standard-bearer after appearing to finish well ahead of Biden and Amy Klobuchar.
Buttigieg declared victory, making media rounds Tuesday morning on MSNBC, CNN and CBS. Sheekey and other Bloomberg advisers acknowledge the former South Bend, Ind., mayor’s appeal, but argue that it will be virtually impossible for Buttigieg to translate his retail campaign skills onto the national scale needed to compete on Super Tuesday.
With those cards turning in his favor, one after another, it would be hard to game out a hotter early hand for Bloomberg, particularly given his distance from the main events.
“They made a calculation that Iowa wouldn’t be as determinative or impactful as past nominating fights and turns out they were right beyond Sheekey’s wildest dreams,” said Neal Kwatra, a New York-based operative who is not affiliated with any presidential campaign. “Now instead of a week of earned media momentum, we are gonna have a week of Democrats in dysfunction.”
He added, “And the technocratic billionaire looking all competent and capable waiting in the wings looks even more appealing to skittish and restive Democrats.”
With Sanders landing in New Hampshire with the wind at his back as Biden stumbles into the second contest of the primary, Bloomberg will forge ahead to battleground states other candidates haven’t gotten to yet — and likely won’t for weeks. He’s spending Tuesday evening in Pennsylvania, a swing state that twice backed Barack Obama before flipping to Trump.
Bloomberg is only able to revise his own primary calendar because of his vast personal fortune — an advantage that has supported his entire late-in-life political career and one that some voters in California viewed as an asset. Voters there are taking notice.
“I will support him, or anybody, but I am not a real progressive so I think he says some good things. And like my friend says, ‘so, he has a lot of money. He can use that money for good,’” 79-year-old Linda Center, a former state Senate staffer, said as she awaited remarks from Bloomberg at a coffee shop in Sacramento, Calif. Monday morning.
Center said she plans to vote for Biden and is still angry at Sanders over the contentious 2016 primary between him and her preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton. But she is “keeping my eye on” Bloomberg.
Rose Kapolczynski, a Democratic strategist in California, said Bloomberg’s case grows if Biden and Amy Klobuchar tank in New Hampshire. For now, she noted, “Bloomberg is picking up a surprising number of endorsements in California for someone seen by many as a backup plan for a Biden stumble.”
Center is the type of voter Bloomberg is hoping to win over if he builds his success from the debris of Biden’s implosion, but, as his advisers have repeatedly pointed out, one red state with few delegates and little racial diversity is hardly indicative of the entire primary.
The former vice president could ove-rperform and bounce back in New Hampshire, where polls show him trailing Sanders by wide margins. Biden could still do well in Nevada and South Carolina, where his support among some unions and black voters has given him a consistent polling advantage over the past year. By that point, the Bloomberg team is hoping several candidates will be crowding the top spot, giving him an edge through his limitless resources for ads, massive staff footprint and ability to stretch the map like no one else.
The combination of a weak showing by Biden and the limited long-term success of progressive candidates will likely force the issue of electability back to the forefront — a boon for Bloomberg, said Colin Strother, a Democratic campaign consultant in Texas.
Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist, presents a clear contrast to Bloomberg, a devout capitalist who prides himself on pragmatism over ideology.
“At the end of the day we have got to be focused on taking out Trump and November,” Strother said. “There are many in our party, myself included, who believe that we have not focused enough on who can win in November.”