With a swath of Democratic presidential candidates consumed Tuesday with the confusing outcome of the Iowa caucuses, Michael Bloomberg came to Philadelphia to argue that he’s the only one who can beat President Donald Trump.
“I got into this race 10 weeks ago because I was deeply concerned Donald Trump was on track to win the election,” Bloomberg, the billionaire and former New York mayor, told a large crowd of supporters Tuesday night at the National Constitution Center. His campaign estimated the crowd at close to 2,000 people.
“We have an angry, out of control, lawless president dividing the American people and abusing his office," Bloomberg said on the eve of Trump’s expected acquittal in his impeachment trial. “Well, I’m running to bring America back together and start getting things done.”
Bloomberg spoke as results from Monday’s Iowa Democratic caucuses remained uncertain after a breakdown in the party’s vote counting and reporting. He said the partial results released Tuesday afternoon, 20 hours late, showed the need for a candidate who can both unite the broad spectrum of the Democratic Party and go “toe to toe” with Trump.
The Republican turned independent turned Democrat decided at the outset of his campaign to forgo the early-voting contests. He’s focusing instead on the Super Tuesday states that vote on March 3, as well as states like Pennsylvania that vote in April. On Tuesday, he looked wise, lucky, or both after Iowa Democrats were unable to fully report caucus results.
That false start dampened the significance of what is typically a key momentum-building moment in the presidential nominating process. It means under-performers could dodge bad news, the victor will enjoy less of a spotlight, and Bloomberg didn’t miss much by not being there.
Returns Tuesday from about two-thirds of the caucuses showed former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as the leaders, with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden well behind them. The New Hampshire primary is next Tuesday.
After the rally, Bloomberg said he’s always taken issue with Iowa and New Hampshire having outsize roles, given the relative lack of diversity in both states.
“It is not fair to this country as its composition has changed, and we’d be better off with bigger states" like Pennsylvania, he said, while acknowledging how expensive it is to compete in larger states.
That’s an issue Bloomberg, who is self-funding his campaign, doesn’t have.
On Tuesday night, Bloomberg rented the entire Constitution Center and spoke from an elevated lectern in the center of the lobby to supporters surrounding him on the floor and on the upper level. The campaign spared no expense, with catered food, wine, a DJ, and lighting design cast onto the ceiling. Signs reading “Philadelphia Will Get It Done” — a play on his “Mike Will Get It Done” TV ads — and “PA Likes Mike” were hung around the grand hall.
Addressing his wealth, which exceeds Trump’s many times over, Bloomberg said: “People ask me, ‘Do you really want a general election between two New York billionaires?’ To which I say, ‘Who’s the other one?’”
Former Mayor Michael Nutter, Bloomberg’s national political campaign chair, introduced Bloomberg following a speech by former Eagles linebacker Dhani Jones, who called Bloomberg “America’s linebacker.”
While Pennsylvania’s primary isn’t until April 28, with so many candidates still running and a muddled outcome in Iowa, Bloomberg’s hope is that the early states will provide more confusion than clarity. That would allow him to rack up delegates on Super Tuesday, when 16 states and territories hold votes.
He has spent more than $250 million blanketing later-voting states with TV ads. That includes more than $12 million spent so far on television and radio advertising across Pennsylvania’s six media markets, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics — an unprecedented level of spending this early in the race. He is spending an average of more than $1 million a week on the airwaves in Pennsylvania.
The deluge appears to be having an effect. A Franklin and Marshall College poll released last week showed Bloomberg, who launched his campaign less than three months ago, in fourth place in the state, with the support of 7% of registered Democrats. That put him ahead of both Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Buttigieg, who have been campaigning for more than a year.
He’s enjoyed similar polling rises in other states where he’s on TV, drawing the attention and ire of Trump. Bloomberg and Trump aired dueling ads during the Super Bowl, and Trump has taken to dismissing his fellow New Yorker on Twitter as “Mini Mike.”
Bloomberg has also been on a hiring spree in Pennsylvania, quickly building an almost 100-person field staff. He has a Philadelphia office in Old City, as well as offices in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. By next week, offices will open in Bucks County, West Chester, Ardmore, Media, and Greensburg. No Democratic candidate has campaign infrastructure on that scale.
Al Barnes, a West Philadelphia resident, said he was impressed with Bloomberg and would likely vote for him. “He just makes sense,” Barnes said.
Jordan Zucker, a senior at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, was less convinced.
“I think Bloomberg realistically is the one that could beat Trump," Zucker said. "I’m just concerned his appeal for youth voters, black voters, Hispanic voters is not going to be enough to push him forward.”