At the local kickoff the other night for the presidential run of Mike Bloomberg, it wasn’t always clear who exactly was running: Mike Bloomberg, or Mike Bloomberg’s money.

“Mike is not in this campaign for himself,” said Victoria Woodards, the Tacoma mayor and an early Bloomberg endorser. “You know this because he’s going to pay to keep this campaign up and running, whether he’s still in the race or not.”

So the Bloomberg money — the staff, the ads, the digital operation – is going to fight all the way to November, whether Bloomberg the person survives the upcoming primaries or not (including the March 10 primary in Washington state — mail balloting starts in just two weeks!).

“It is kind of a garbled message,” said Adil Chaudhry, of Seattle, a retired financial trader and Bloomberg fan who dropped by the Pioneer Square office opening. “What’s missing a little bit is the ‘here’s why I should get the job.’ It doesn’t feel fully baked.”

Adil Chaudhry showed up to support Mike Bloomberg at the candidate’s new Seattle campaign headquarters, but said the message “doesn’t feel fully baked.”
Adil Chaudhry showed up to support Mike Bloomberg at the candidate’s new Seattle campaign headquarters, but said the message “doesn’t feel fully baked.”

It feels that way because of the money. No politician in recent times has been as “money forward” as Bloomberg. Because of it, he has so far been able to glide past all the usual labors of politics, from tromping through snowy fields in Iowa to grinding out TV debates to trying to whip clipboard-carrying volunteers into a passion.

The only phenomenon even close was Ross Perot, who used his fortune to pay for half-hour TV infomercials about the federal deficit in 1992. He was worth $4 billion in 2019 — only about 6% of what Bloomberg is worth.

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At the Bloomberg event, the money was both a feature and a bug.

“I think it’s OK, because then he can’t be accused of being influenced by the big money,” said Kara Brodman, of Bellevue.

“There’s a certain purity to a campaign when you don’t need to ever ask anybody for a thing,” agreed Woodards, the Tacoma mayor.

But such extreme privilege — it’s like royalty, really — is an uneasy fit in the Democratic Party, which has been calling out inequities and the corrupting force of big money for years.

“When I came out for Mike, I got some ugly emails from some people, saying ‘what are you doing, you’re a Democrat!’ ” Woodards said.

The amount of money Bloomberg could spend is unprecedented. Recently, media experts estimated $6 billion could be spent on political ads in 2020. That figure is only one-tenth of Bloomberg’s $61 billion wealth. He could swamp the airwaves of an entire nation so thoroughly that it could effectively drown out everybody else.

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Drown out Trump with dollars? Bring it on, people at the gathering said.

Recently a poll in New Hampshire found that 62% of Democrats would rather see a giant meteor strike the Earth and extinguish all human life than see President Trump get reelected. So squeamishness about a billionaire buying democracy isn’t much of a gut check at this point.

Rhonda Tilford, center, a field organizer for the Mike Bloomberg campaign, talks with people checking out the new headquarters in Pioneer Square. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)
Rhonda Tilford, center, a field organizer for the Mike Bloomberg campaign, talks with people checking out the new headquarters in Pioneer Square. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Because of the money, Bloomberg also floats along ethereally apart from the usual political clubs. In the space of 10 years he was a Republican, then an independent and now a Democrat. It seems he could be all of these, or none — a label-defying identity that might work against him in our tribal politics, but is super-appealing to some.

“I like that he’s socially liberal but fiscally more conservative, and successful both in business and politics,” said Cole Brodman, of Bellevue.

“But mostly I feel like he’s the only one left who can beat Trump.”

It’s a strange time. Bernie Sanders’ campaign announced Friday that in the month of January alone he drew more than 64,000 donations from people in Washington state, with an average donation of only $18. He also got a slew of endorsements, and continues to pack labor rallies. In other words, he’s got an old-school, people-powered campaign — the anti-Bloomberg.

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Despite all that supposed people power, the turnout was low in Iowa. There’s a feeling the old conventions are no longer operative.

“I think people are starting to sense we’re in trouble,” summed up Barb Morgan, of Seattle, who said she recently became “an actual, organic Bloomberg supporter — I’m not being paid.”

Will liberals learn to stop worrying and love a billionaire in 2020? Too soon to say. But one can definitely feel the requisite desperation settling in.