Michael Bloomberg has yet to set foot in Washington state in support of his 2020 presidential campaign. But the ex-New York City mayor’s face and message already are on full blast here.
The billionaire has pumped more than $2 million into broadcast TV ads in the Seattle market, according to filings with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The ads have blanketed news programs, NFL games and talk shows on the area’s major broadcast stations, including KING, KOMO, KONG, KIRO, and Q13 Fox.
Bloomberg’s sole competition among 2020 rivals in Seattle broadcast TV spending comes from another billionaire candidate, California businessman Tom Steyer, who aired a $70,000 stretch of ads on KOMO ending in early December as part of a national buy on stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group.
The local Bloomberg barrage is a small slice of the $120 million worth of TV spots he’s bought nationally in just one month since entering the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Steyer has spent $83 million, while South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg ranks a distant third at $19 million, according to Politico.
“I don’t know that we have ever seen this level of spending,” said Sandeep Kaushik, a Seattle-based Democratic political consultant, pointing to Washington’s typically low-rung status in presidential nominating contests. “What the Bloomberg campaign is testing, and what we are going to find out, is what are the limits to unlimited spending.”
Washington’s 2020 presidential primary is scheduled for March 10, earlier than in previous election cycles, but still almost certain to be overshadowed by Super Tuesday on March 3, when a dozen states will hold primaries or caucuses, including the delegate-rich prizes of California and Texas.
With a net worth estimated at $56 billion by Forbes, Bloomberg has cash to throw around. But his advertising binge hasn’t yet pushed him past single digits in national polling, which has been dominated by former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
Bloomberg, who has previously identified as a Republican and an independent, is positioning himself as a centrist with a record of accomplishment who can defeat President Donald Trump. In TV ads, he boasts of taking on Big Tobacco, the coal industry and the National Rifle Association. An organization he founded, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, donated more than $500,000 in 2018 to help pass Initiative 1639 in Washington state, which imposed a series of new and expanded gun regulations.
But Bloomberg’s appeal may be limited among progressive Democratic primary voters who are supporting calls by Sanders and Warren for a wealth tax that would tap billionaires to pay for sweeping new social programs including Medicare for All.
“Money is useful in getting your message in front of voters, but if you don’t have the right message you can spend an infinite amount of money and go nowhere,” said Kaushik. He pointed to Meg Whitman, a Republican who spent $140 million of her own money running for California governor in 2010, only to lose to Democrat Jerry Brown.
Bloomberg’s campaign wouldn’t discuss details of its Washington ad buys. In addition to the Seattle market, the campaign also bought more than $180,000 in advertising on three Spokane TV stations, according to FCC filings.
“Mike is building a robust and unprecedented campaign infrastructure to defeat Trump. He’s invested in talented staff and field operations across the country and will continue to expand operations over the course of the Democratic primary and beyond,” said Michael Frazier, a spokesman for the Bloomberg campaign, in an emailed statement.
Frazier added that Bloomberg commends Gov. Jay Inslee, who dropped out of the presidential race this summer, “for his leadership on climate change and making it a top priority in the Democratic primary cycle.” He pointed to Bloomberg’s own proposal for transitioning the U.S. to 100% clean power before 2050.
In contrast to Bloomberg’s self-funded, TV-heavy strategy, Warren and Sanders have relied on large numbers of small donations. Both have placed paid campaign operatives in Washington state in addition to having visible volunteer presences. Warren recently announced the opening of two Seattle campaign offices and the hiring of 30 paid staff.
Bloomberg recently announced hiring 170 staff in 20 states, but Washington was not on the list.