Michael Bloomberg is rapidly building a nearly 100-person campaign staff in Pennsylvania, an early indicator of the money he can personally pour into the 2020 presidential race and his unusual bet on later states in the Democratic nominating contest.
While his rivals focus their energy and resources on the first four states that vote in the primary, Bloomberg has hired a slew of top Pennsylvania aides, including state director Kevin Kinross, a Pittsburgh-based consultant who managed former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s reelection campaign in 2011. Nutter is Bloomberg’s national political chairman.
Also on board is political director Mitch Kates, who held the same role for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party from 2015 to 2018.
The Inquirer learned of the hires through three Democratic sources, and the campaign confirmed the information Wednesday.
In all, Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman and former New York mayor, has brought on about 35 staffers in the Keystone State and is aiming for more than 90, Kinross said.
“I’ve never seen a field staff this big from my experience,” said Kinross, 44, who also managed Dan Onorato’s unsuccessful 2010 gubernatorial campaign. Bloomberg is aiming to win the nomination, but has also committed to working to beat Trump even if he isn’t the Democratic candidate, Kinross said.
The Pennsylvania hires are part of a broader effort to build a national operation while other Democrats spend their time in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina — which vote in rapid succession next month.
“Right now Donald Trump is running unopposed in the key states that it takes to win the White House in November, so our campaign strategy was to get on the ground in those states early, build the infrastructure, build the capacity, and begin to compete now,” Kinross said. “We’re building for November. We’re hopeful and excited that Mike Bloomberg will be our nominee, but we’re committed to beating Donald Trump."
The early splash, and the promise of a potentially unprecedented level of spending, has caught the eye of even some Democrats supporting other candidates. Bob Brady, chair of the Philadelphia Democratic Party and a Joe Biden supporter, said Bloomberg is “probably” his second choice.
“I don’t think it’s ever going to come to that, but he’s a nice guy,” Brady said. "A ton of money, Jesus.”
Bloomberg is paying top Pennsylvania aides $20,000 to $25,000 per month, according to three Pennsylvania Democratic sources familiar with the hires — though Kinross said those figures were “not accurate," including for himself.
Bloomberg has also hired Michael Berman, of the Dover Strategy Group, as a senior adviser, Abu Edwards as deputy political director, and Mustafa Rashed, president of Philadelphia-based Bellevue Strategies, as communications director. Others helped Democrats win tough House races in local swing districts, including Kelly Zimmerman, who was field director for New Jersey Rep. Andy Kim, of Burlington County, and Cara Koontz, a digital consultant for Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild, of Allentown.
By skipping the first four states and spending lavishly on staff and advertising elsewhere, Bloomberg has much of the country virtually to himself for now. He is betting that no Democrat emerges as the clear nominee early on, and that he can swoop in as a consensus pick — and blow away the competition in later states where he is already advertising on television and hiring.
In Pennsylvania, Biden’s national campaign is headquartered in Center City, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently opened her first Pennsylvania field office in West Philadelphia and hired her own state director. But otherwise, the Democratic candidates have made few, if any, investments in staff in the state, which won’t hold its primary until April 28.
Bloomberg, meanwhile, has already spent $6.6 million on TV in Pennsylvania, according to data tracked by the website FiveThirtyEight. The only other candidates to buy local ads so far in Pennsylvania are Trump ($470,000) and billionaire Democrat Tom Steyer ($75,000), according to the site. Bloomberg has also poured tens of millions more into the many “Super Tuesday” states that vote in early March and that could reshape the nominating contest if the early states fail to produce a runaway front-runner.
As of mid-December he had already spent more than $76 million on television nationwide, according to the Wesleyan Media Project. Only Steyer came close.
Bloomberg has suggested he might put $1 billion of his own money into the race, including an $11 million ad during the Super Bowl. That buy prompted Trump to respond with an ad of his own during the game.
With TV and money, Bloomberg is flexing on fronts that Trump personally values, and grabbing the president’s attention. Trump has already attacked the fellow New Yorker on Twitter.
Bloomberg has pitched himself as a pragmatist who can appeal to swing voters who want stable leadership. He also points to his longtime support for some key liberal issues, such as fighting climate change and enacting tougher gun laws.
But Bloomberg also comes with heavy political baggage when it comes to more liberal Democrats. Many are sharply critical of Wall Street, big business, and the influence of money in politics, and aggressive police tactics such as the “stop-and-frisk” practices utilized in New York during Bloomberg’s tenure.
He has been a Republican, an independent, and now a Democrat. And he has prominently backed two Pennsylvania Republicans, Sen. Pat Toomey and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, in critical recent elections, supporting them because of their stances in favor of expanding background checks for gun purchases.
Kinross said Bloomberg can win.
“It’s electability and the fact that he can stand up to Donald Trump and if you look at some of the issues that primary voters care about," he said. “Mike Bloomberg has a great progressive track record on them — guns, climate, health care — so we believe our candidate has a story to tell that’s going to resonate with those voters.”