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Michael Bloomberg talks Gritty, Trump, and health care in Philly campaign stop

The former mayor of New York City made his 2020 presidential pitch to potential voters while doing some serious name-dropping.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination brought him to Philadelphia, where he opened a campaign headquarters on Saturday.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination brought him to Philadelphia, where he opened a campaign headquarters on Saturday.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

On the Saturday before Christmas, Michael Bloomberg pitched himself to a roomful of Philadelphia-area voters who were still shopping for a Democratic presidential candidate to support.

The former New York City mayor entered the 2020 presidential race just three and a half weeks ago, and seemed to recognize that he still had to make up plenty of ground when he stepped onto a small stage inside his newly opened Philadelphia campaign headquarters, on North Third Street near Market.

“PA LIKES MIKE” signs dotted the walls of the narrow, crowded room, along with patriotic bunting and Philly sports banners. Bloomberg played to the crowd, name-dropping former Gov. Ed Rendell (“Ed and I were friends before I was ever in government”), Gritty, the Flyers’ bug-eyed mascot (“If we had a Bloomberg/Gritty 2020 [ticket], I think we’d win this country easily”), and former Mayor Michael Nutter, who earlier this week was appointed Bloomberg’s national political chair.

But Bloomberg devoted the bulk of his speech to what he described as the “existential threat” posed by President Donald Trump, whose 2016 election victory hinged on his ability to win battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Bloomberg was scheduled to visit all three Saturday.

“Until recently, President Trump was running unopposed in all those key swing states. And the cold, hard fact is, if you look at the polls, this is a guy who’s going to be hard to beat,” Bloomberg said.

“And I can’t imagine another four years of Donald Trump. The first four are going to be hard to recover from. Not even clear you could recover from eight. So we just have to find a way to beat him in November.”

Bloomberg argued that the three terms he served as mayor make him well-suited for the challenge of both defeating Trump and running the country. New York’s murder and incarceration rates fell during his time in office, he said, and the city’s carbon footprint shrunk, while teacher salaries and graduation rates climbed.

He spoke at length about the importance of improving access to health care, noting that life expectancy in the U.S. has fallen for the last three years, but said he opposes Medicare-for-all. Such a proposal “would never get through Congress,” he said, “because it would cost a fortune.”

A billionaire, Bloomberg is self-funding his campaign, but thus far has little to show for the estimated $100 million he’s spent on advertising; one recent poll estimates about 5% of Democratic-leaning voters support him, good for fourth place among 15 candidates.

He also hasn’t appeared in any televised debates. The Democratic National Committee reportedly requires candidates to have at least 200,000 donors, and meet certain polling standards, to be able to participate.

Bloomberg didn’t seem particularly bothered by his absence on the debate stage. “I don’t think the debates really matter that much,” he said.

His message — and resumé — resonated, though, with those who squeezed into his campaign headquarters.

LeAnn Gleason, a Philadelphia resident, said she was impressed with how succinctly Bloomberg made his case. “I’ve been looking for someone I can get behind,” she said. “We need him.”

Another attendee, Steven Mostert, said he supported South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, but has become intrigued by Bloomberg.

“I do feel like he may be the best candidate to beat Trump,” said Mostert, who lives in Center City.

To do that, Bloomberg would have to win over tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians who helped Trump capture the state’s 20 electoral votes in 2016. He framed that task in simple terms.

“We have to find a way to get people to believe that they have a future, that their kids are going to do better than they’re doing,” Bloomberg said, “and pull people together.”