Mike Bloomberg qualified for Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate in Nevada, thanks to a new NPR/Marist College poll out Tuesday showing him rising into second place nationally.
But it was hardly the first indicator of the former New York mayor’s momentum. It merely validated what we’re seeing in Super Tuesday states and beyond. And it puts a candidate on the debate stage who should be there — both because he’s shown he’s formidable enough and because he’s overdue for the kind of scrutiny that such a debate provides.
The upshot: If Bloomberg can turn in a strong debate performance Wednesday and weather increasingly brutal attacks on his past comments, he’s set himself up for a healthy delegate haul in the crucial month of March.
The NPR/Marist poll wasn’t the only one Tuesday showing a Bloomberg bump; a Monmouth University poll in Virginia has him tied with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for the lead at 22%. Virginia has the fourth-most delegates available on Super Tuesday, which is March 3.
And here’s his showing in the most recent poll across a handful of medium and big March states:
North Carolina: third at 16%.
Georgia: tied for second at 14%.
Missouri: second place at 14%.
Washington: fourth place at 12%.
Texas: fourth at 10%.
That last one isn’t quite so rosy, given it’s the third-biggest delegate prize of all. And Bloomberg also has yet to demonstrate momentum in the biggest prize, California. But we also haven’t seen a poll there in more than three weeks, and Bloomberg is pouring resources into it.
What’s particularly notable about all these states isn’t just that Bloomberg is in the hunt, but that he’s looking like a solid bet to clear the all-important 15% threshold to win delegates in many of them. It would be great for him if he could pull off a win in a state like Florida or Virginia, but he’ll need to complement that with strong enough showings nationwide to amass enough delegates to start looking like a front-runner.
And to be clear, that race will largely be decided between March 3 and March 17, with a majority of delegates being awarded on those three successive Tuesdays. If Bloomberg can keep it together for another four weeks, and perhaps even rise a little in some of these states, these polls suggest he’ll potentially be competing with Sanders (and/or someone else) for the Democratic nomination.
Which brings us to the but. Over the past week, we’ve seen an increasing barrage of attacks on Bloomberg, whose comments about minorities and crime, women and other issues pose real problems for him moving forward. The comments are particularly problematic in the modern Democratic Party, whose nomination is increasingly decided by minorities and women. And don’t forget that Bloomberg only officially joined that party two years ago.
While those comments have circulated widely on social media, though, you have to think the vast majority of voters on Super Tuesday and beyond have yet to truly digest them. Instead, they’ve digested a barrage of largely uncontested Bloomberg campaign ads while the other candidates battled it out in the first four states (which Bloomberg isn’t competing in).
It’s a strategy for Bloomberg that many questioned when he launched but that now appears to be paying off in spades. It’s also one that has afforded him a glide path that was never going to sustain itself indefinitely. Some argued that the Democratic National Committee did Bloomberg a favor when it took away the donor threshold that had been required for previous debates, given that Bloomberg would never meet it since he’s exclusively self-funding. But this would seem an appropriate time to put him on the stage.
And you can bet the rest of the candidates will be coming for him. It will be a huge moment in this race — in which we find out whether Bloomberg is for real.