Democratic Party Admires Michael Bloomberg's War Chest
NOEL KING, HOST:
Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, is steadily building support from some Democratic voters. But he's also dealing with criticism over his past statements and his policies on race, on gender and on unions. But put aside for a moment the question of whether or not Bloomberg will turn out to be a compelling candidate. There's something that may matter to the Democratic Party regardless of whether he can win, and that is his billions of dollars. Here's NPR's Mara Liasson.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: For Democrats, it's a beyond-your-wildest-dreams fantasy - an unlimited budget to run against Donald Trump. According to Bloomberg senior adviser Tim O'Brien, Mike Bloomberg will spend that money on behalf of any Democrat.
TIM O'BRIEN: Mike is in this for the long haul. And as you know, all of this machinery we're building is ultimately going to be in the service of the party or whoever the nominee is, even if that's not Mike. Mike's commitment is to spending whatever it takes to beat Donald Trump.
LIASSON: There have already been $300 million of Bloomberg ads. Instead of going after his Democratic opponents, the ads pummel Donald Trump. And they remind voters that Bloomberg leveled the playing field financially with the NRA and, in 2018, helped elect a Democratic House.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, "IMPEACHMENT")
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: In 2016, I warned that Donald Trump was a dangerous demagogue. And when the Republican Congress wouldn't hold him accountable, I went to work helping run winning campaigns in 21 House seats.
LIASSON: And it's not just ads, says O'Brien.
O'BRIEN: We have a very massive and sophisticated ground operation. We're in 35 states. We're able to run a general election campaign right out of the gates. I've been in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, North Carolina. I'm in Texas now, and I'm going to Florida. And we have people knocking on doors. And we have a very sophisticated digital targeting operation aimed at getting out voters. Mike's been spending money on get-out-the-vote campaigns and down-ballot races as well.
LIASSON: It sounds like Mike Bloomberg is willing to pay for just about anything the Democratic Party needs. To Leah Daughtry, former DNC chief of staff and CEO for two Democratic conventions, that is a very big deal.
LEAH DAUGHTRY: I've now worked on nine presidential cycles. And the prospect of having a presidential campaign that is fully funded, where you're not concerned about money for even the most basic of things is really quite extraordinary and would be game-changing on the Democratic Party side.
LIASSON: It would be the first time ever that an opposition party has been able to compete financially with the party of an incumbent president, says former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.
JIM MESSINA: I got to run the first billion-dollar campaign in American political history in 2012 for Barack Obama. You know, Michael Bloomberg, in these Super Tuesday states, is currently advertising at levels, you know, a month before the primary that Barack Obama's reelection campaign never got to in October of 2012. So it's just an unbelievable amount of spending.
LIASSON: Even a limitless amount of money is no guarantee of victory, of course. But Bloomberg's investment means, in the general election, down-ballot Democrats would be fully funded in competitive states and districts.
GRAIG MEYER: Right now, the Bloomberg campaign has 125 staff people on the ground in North Carolina. And at the height of the 2012 campaign, the Obama organization only had 95 people here.
LIASSON: That's Graig Meyer, a state representative from North Carolina and the guy in charge of recruiting, fundraising and strategy for all Democratic state-level campaigns there.
MEYER: So if Bloomberg's campaign is adding that much capacity, it could really make a huge difference getting out the vote all across the state and have an impact up and down the ballot, not just in the presidential race.
LIASSON: That impact, Meyer says, could be worth anywhere from 2 to 5 points in North Carolina if it helps turn out voters at a level Democrats haven't seen in the state since 2008. And there's something else the Bloomberg campaign can afford to do.
MEYER: And the Bloomberg campaign actually seems to be the campaign that's the most interested in understanding what other Democratic races need. And they're the most attentive to how they can help us rather than how we can help them.
LIASSON: Bloomberg says his money will support any Democratic nominee, even if it's Bernie Sanders, the current front-runner and a candidate that many Democratic officeholders feel would be a drag on their campaigns. So the big question is - would Bloomberg's money still matter if Sanders is the nominee? Jim Messina.
MESSINA: And the nominee matters deeply because you have to have a message about where you want to take the country for these swing voters to vote for you and for these, you know, excited Democrats to vote for you. So while it is incredibly important to spend this money - and I think it's very helpful - it will be negated if we have a candidate come out of the primary that can't win the general election.
LIASSON: So the top of the ticket matters. But party officials are hopeful that Bloomberg's investment could help counteract the impact they fear a Sanders candidacy might have on down-ballot Democrats.
Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.
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