The Curious Case of the Billionaire Mayor

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With the first votes in the 2020 Democratic Primary mere months away, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has made his clearest signal yet that he’s prepared to jump into the race for the Democratic nomination, as he has started buying television ad time across the country. Ads are started to begin rolling out on Monday, and per reports from some stations to the FEC, they will mention an opposing candidate, likely President Trump.

The news comes the same week that Bloomberg filed to officially place his name on the ballot for the Texas Democratic primary, and the Lone Star State will get plenty of love from the billionaire philanthropist. So far, it looks like Bloomberg will run at least $1.2 million in ads in the Austin, Houston and Dallas markets. The vast majority of that money will be spent in the expensive Houston and Dallas markets, where the bulk of the Democratic primary votes will be cast. Voters could end up seeing Bloomberg’s ads dozens of times next week.

The ad blitz highlights both Bloomberg’s unconventional approach and his ability to keep such an unorthodox campaign afloat and competitive. Advisors have been signaling that Bloomberg will altogether skip the first four nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada and instead focus on more populous and diverse states voting on Super Tuesday.

While that strategy may seem fraught with danger, it’s also surprisingly mathematically sound. Bloomberg could potentially win more delegates taking third place in Texas than he could by winning any of those states in a landslide, and his ability to self-fund at an unprecedented level makes it possible for him to go up with huge buys in some of the country’s most expensive markets like Dallas, Houston and even Chicago where he’s making a $700,000 buy.

As for where the former New York City Mayor may fit into the primary ideologically, it’s anyone’s guess. Bloomberg was a lifelong Democrat until he was elected Mayor as a Republican and though he’s recently issued an apology for it, many voters of color view him skeptically because of the failed and racist stop and frisk policy he advocated for while Mayor.

With that said, Bloomberg has also put his money where his mouth is to prove his progressive bona fides. He helped found and has helped finance Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, two of the most prominent gun sense organizations in the country. He’s also been heavily involved in environmental issues and spent over $80 million of his own money in 2018 helping Democrats take back the House. 

This track record might not only be helpful in quelling progressive criticism of his record. It also gives Bloomberg and his team a huge tactical advantage. They’ve invested heavily in races around the country and have gleaned the type of data that is invaluable in understanding the issues voters care about and how to motivate them. 

And that team knows Texas: in 2018 alone, Bloomberg’s leadership PAC Independence USA spent $1.3 million in support of Democrat Lizzie Fletcher in the Houston-based 7th Congressional district, and $1.4 million in opposition to Pete Sessions in the Dallas-area 32nd district. Fletcher and Democrat Colin Allred would go on to win those races, respectively. 

Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Hudson River Park

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