LOS ANGELES — In just over 100 days, Michael Bloomberg spent over $500 million of his own fortune in a quixotic bid for the presidency that collapsed in stunning fashion on Super Tuesday, when he won just one U.S. territory, American Samoa.
By Wednesday morning, he quit the race and endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden, saying his continued presence in the rapidly shrinking field would make it harder for the party to defeat Republican President Donald Trump in November, his ultimate priority. The businessman, worth an estimated $61 billion, pledged to keep spending to defeat Trump.
But that money wasn’t enough to sell voters on the idea that a former New York City mayor with bottomless resources was the Democratic Party’s best choice. While Bloomberg went from a nonexistent campaign to a staff of 2,400 people across 43 states in less than three months, he won none of the 14 states that voted Tuesday night and picked up just a handful of delegates in states where he had cautiously hoped for victory as recently as last week.
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That was before Biden’s resurgence in South Carolina and the rapid realignment of Democrats behind him. Two of Bloomberg’s former Democratic rivals, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, dropped out of the race. They endorsed Biden as the moderate alternative to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders just the day before Super Tuesday.
But Bloomberg’s campaign may have been doomed from the start, said Mo Elleithee, formerly the top spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. He cited the businessman’s unorthodox decision to skip the first four primary states as an early problem.
“There’s a reason why others have tried this strategy of skipping the early states and it’s never worked, and that’s because you just can’t parachute into a presidential race — especially when it’s pretty deep in — and expect to just coast through,” he said. “What the early states do is they help you work out kinks and get ready for the primary.”
It was a strategy born partly of necessity — Bloomberg’s late entry into the race, in November, meant he didn’t have much time to set up an operation or build a following in the early primary states. At the time, Bloomberg’s internal campaign data showed Biden struggling in the primary, and the path for Bloomberg looked much clearer.
But it’s also one that reflects Bloomberg’s unique asset in the field as the world’s ninth wealthiest man. His fortune flows from the financial data and media company that bears his name, which he started in the 1980s. In addition to serving 12 years as New York mayor, he endeared himself to progressive groups by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into fighting climate change and curbing gun violence.
In the early weeks of his campaign, he used his vast fortune to introduce himself to voters outside New York on his own terms, and his rivals accused him of trying to buy the party’s nomination and the White House. While he spent over $500 million nationally on television, radio and digital ads, he hung his success on Super Tuesday, spending at least $180 million on advertising in those 14 states alone.
As the primaries got underway in February, his bet seemed to have paid off: Bloomberg surged to double digits in the polls just as Biden was taking a hit from underwhelming performances in the first two primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Bloomberg’s team went as far as to declare it a two-person primary between Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders. While Bloomberg made an electability case against Sanders and argued the senator’s progressive policies and embrace of democratic socialism didn’t reflect the party, the Vermont senator used the billionaire as a foil to his populist message.
But the focus on advertising and carefully choreographed rallies where the candidate never took questions from voters and rarely from press left him ill-prepared for his first turn on the debate stage in over a decade, in Las Vegas in late February. There, he was pummeled by opponents on everything from his support for the controversial stop-and-frisk policing practice and its disproportionate effect on minorities to his company’s non-disclosure agreements with dozens of women and alleged crude and sexist comments about female employees.
Bloomberg’s heavily data-driven campaign watched the former mayor’s favorability ratings fall after that debate. The campaign’s polling shifted again after Biden’s victory in South Carolina, this time in such dramatic fashion toward the former vice president that data was outdated almost as soon as it was presented to Bloomberg and his staff, according to a senior campaign adviser.
The adviser said Bloomberg was clear-eyed about his prospects heading into Super Tuesday voting, but felt he needed to stand by his commitment to appear on ballots in the states.
By the time Bloomberg huddled with his senior advisers at the campaign’s midtown Manhattan headquarters Wednesday morning, the decision to end the campaign was clear. Around 10 a.m., Bloomberg called Biden to tell him he was dropping out and endorsing his candidacy.
In his statement announcing his decision, Bloomberg said he has known Biden for a long time and knows Biden’s commitment to issues including gun safety, health care, climate change and good jobs.
“I’ve had the chance to work with Joe on those issues over the years, and Joe has fought for working people his whole life,” Bloomberg said. “Today I am glad to endorse him –- and I will work to make him the next President of the United States.”
Trump, for his part, had paid close attention to the Democratic nominating contest and had been especially fixated on Bloomberg. Trump regularly railed against his fellow New Yorker on Twitter, mocking his short stature by calling him “Mini Mike” and claiming Bloomberg was the candidate he wanted to run against.
On Tuesday, he called the results a “complete destruction” of Bloomberg’s reputation — and on Wednesday, after Bloomberg dropped out, Trump gloated that “sometimes you just don’t have what it takes.”
What’s next for Bloomberg’s operation is unclear. He’d pledged to keep campaign offices open in key general election battleground states to help the Democrats defeat Trump even if he lost the party’s nomination — and he’s continuing to pay his thousands of staffers through the general election.
Elleithee said that operation means Bloomberg “has the potential to have a lot more impact on this race as a non-candidate than he did as a candidate.”
“As much as Democrats started to demonize Mike Bloomberg the candidate, they loved Mike Bloomberg the progressive benefactor before he became a candidate,” he said.