Bloomberg Isn't on N.H. Ballot, But Is on Dem Voters' Minds

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MANCHESTER, N.H. – Jaye Duffy is a smart, well-connected local Democrat who is on a first-name basis with state judges, politicians, business leaders, and newspaper editors -- most of whom she’s known since childhood.

She is desperate – as is every Democrat I’ve talked to here – to defeat President Trump in November.  The best person on the New Hampshire ballot to do so, Duffy decided Sunday, is Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who seems to be rising in the final days on the strength of a brainy, winsome debate performance – and the tepid, defensive one by a rival moderate: Pete Buttigieg.

The morning after the debate, Klobuchar drew an overflow crowd of more than 500 – massive by her previous standards -- to a rally and speech on the campus of the University of New Hampshire in Durham. She pitched her long experience as an elected official, combined with a sense of empathy she said comes from her modest family background and role as a mother.

Although it is late in the game, Klobuchar is emerging as perhaps the most appealing political traditionalist on the ballot here: someone who, as supporter Iris Estabrook said in introducing her, “gets things done and brings the receipts” -- a dues-paying, bill-passing, detail-knowing savvy professional.

But as attractive as Klobuchar might be, the Minnesota senator is unlikely to win here, and she is just the beginning, not the end, of Duffy’s calculations. New Hampshire is kingmaker of presidents, but not this time, in her view. No matter who wins here, she hopes and expects to support former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and is convinced he’s the best bet – the only bet -- to beat Trump.

“People complain that Bloomberg isn’t grassroots, that he hasn’t built a campaign from the bottom up, that he isn’t a party guy, that he is an outsider throwing billions around,” she told me Sunday morning here in Manchester. “I say, ‘So what? He has the money, all the data, all the research and the freedom to do what needs to be done to beat Trump.’ That’s all that matters to me.”

What Bloomberg is, is a “movement,” not a campaign. The same is true, ever more so, for Sen. Bernie Sanders -- and for Donald Trump, who started using the word the moment he glided down the gold-tone escalator in Trump Tower in 2015. This is the campaign of outsider movements, and New Hampshire will help make it so.

The probable bottom line coming out of the Granite State is: Sanders, Vermont neighbor, wins (perhaps not overwhelmingly), in part thanks to Klobuchar’s having slowed the momentum of “Mayor Pete.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden will battle for what’s left. A top New Hampshire Democrat, who has publicly endorsed Biden and who is close to the state’s congressional delegation, told me in Sunday that if Biden finishes fourth — and there is a chance he could even drop to fifth — “he’s done.”  Buttigieg got a late boost from (finally!) official results in Iowa, where he won 14 delegates, compared with Bernie’s 12.

If this current form holds for another two days, the results would be unlikely to strengthen any single moderate, stop-Bernie candidacy among those who ran here.

It’s a scenario that could produce a final trio down the line of Bernie, Bloomberg and Trump, none of whom are “party” people in any sense.  In my business, we have for decades been chronicling the decline of political parties and the traditional election methods that they favor. Years in the party ranks, working the local officials before anything else, seeking endorsements as a way to get started -- all of that is going out the window.

The Iowa caucuses fiasco – combined, on the Republican side, with Trump’s repeated humiliation of the GOP -- may be the final blow to the reputation of parties. What has replaced it all? Three forces: (1) unique, innovative methods of raising and spending huge amounts of cash; (2) laser-focused arrays of policy proposals that amount to “revolutionary” or populist manifestos; (3) mastery of cutting-edge social-media, digital, viral means of organizing and communication.

Here in New Hampshire, Sanders isn’t relying on local politicians – he’s avoiding them. The distrust is mutual. “Bernie isn’t a Democrat, he is a ‘movement,’” former Democratic state Chairman Chris Spirou told me. “I’d go so far as to say that Bernie Sanders is a cult. He’s the leader of a cult!”

Whatever you want to call it, his campaign is effective, and popular. Sanders’ “revolutionary” ideas – “Medicare for All,” free public college tuition, student-loan forgiveness, Green New Deal – are sweeping and unified. He simultaneously defends them as “mainstream” while selling them as a confrontational manifesto.

Bernie will also have the money and the messaging machinery to move forward. He has built a fundraising base unrivaled by any others who are not billionaires, such as Yang Gang leader Andrew Yang or campaign-donor-turned-candidate Tom Steyer.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg advertised substantially enough here in New Hampshire to get into the heads of non-Bernie voters. His name was volunteered to me by provisional “supporters” of Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Biden, and even Warren. Democrats here are expecting – hoping – that he spends billions. It doesn’t matter that he was a Republican or even that he skipped their sacred primary.

Bloomberg has also assembled a huge campaign staff, including people from his own corporate world, whose main qualification is that they have worked for him and share his almost religious devotion to the power of “data.”

They think he can beat the ultimate “cult leader,” Trump, who will bring his own “movement” to a rally here on the eve of the primary.  Like the Democratic dinner and rally Saturday night, the Trump Show will take place in the Southern New Hampshire University Arena in downtown Manchester. There will be an overflow crowd; Trump’s campaign tends to authorize far more attendees than there is space for them in the rally space.

It’ll be a scene fit for a movement -- or a cult.

Howard Fineman is an NBC News analyst, journalism lecturer, author, and was formerly chief political correspondent for Newsweek and editorial director of HuffPost.



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