After New Hampshire, Bloomberg Machine Sees an Open Road
MANCHESTER, N.H. – The three top finishers in the Democratic primary here Tuesday had every right to give their victory speeches, and they did, but in New York City and across the vast and not-yet-fully-visible national machine that is Mike Bloomberg's well-funded campaign, the mood was one of quiet satisfaction even though their man was not on the ballot.
If, as Bloomberg likes to say, “Trust in God, but everyone else bring data,” the data he harvested from the New Hampshire primary gave his team confidence that they are on the path to eventually winning the presidential nomination and, in the process, using his tens of billions in cash and widely admired organizational mastery of detail to reinvent U.S. presidential politics.
In sum, their thinking is this:
Sen. Bernie Sanders, who eked out a narrow win here, is a democratic socialist too far to the left to defeat Donald J. Trump. That is an arguable theory -- Sanders wins his share of test match-ups with the president -- but it accurately reflects the party establishment's widespread fear of The Bern.
The two more moderate alternatives to Sanders who emerged Tuesday -- Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar -- divided their vote in such a way as to leave neither in control of that centrist “lane.” Both did surprisingly well -- Buttigieg barely missed pulling off what would have been a huge upset and Klobuchar was closing impressively at the end. But Team Bloomberg regards both candidates as pleasant, under-sourced, and underwhelming foes whom they can flatten in three weeks on Super Tuesday -- thanks to colossal levels of spending and staffing across the country.
“What’s happening is that no one has ever seen a campaign that has anything like Mike’s resources,” said Greg Fischer, a Bloomberg confidant, mayor of Louisville, and incoming president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Joe Biden, once (and mistakenly) seen as the obvious and even inevitable front-runner, finished an embarrassing fifth here, in single digits, and will try to recover on the strength of African American voters who, at least in a new Quinnipiac poll, no longer regard him as their favorite candidate for the nomination.
“We are making great progress in the black community,” said Fischer. “Joe’s not the favorite anymore, even assuming that he stays in the race.”
Buttigieg and Klobuchar will have a chance to make their cases in the upcoming Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primary, with “Mayor Pete” boasting the far deeper national organization. In both states, those two, along with Sanders, Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren -- who also underperformed here -- will have their first chance to show whether they have the ability to excite and attract voters of color (Hispanics in Nevada; African Americans in South Carolina).
Sources in the Buttigieg camp tell me that, as Biden has faded and Pete has risen, they have begun getting calls from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, among other leaders in the black community, eager to know more about him beyond his sometimes-rocky relationship with the community in South Bend, Ind.
But where Buttigieg may have a story to tell, Bloomberg has -- and has had for years -- grants to make, advice to give, and huge financial support to offer.
Bloomberg has gone straight at his own reputational problems on race, apologizing repeatedly for his stop-and-frisk policy as New York mayor, attending black church services, and responding apologetically to a conveniently timed leak of an audio from 2015 in which he defended the practice of stop-and-frisk in vivid terms. It surfaced the day before the primary here, and gave him a chance to deal with it amid the din of other campaign-related news.
“He’s got a ton of money to give away and he is going to do it,” said Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, a top Sanders adviser and an African American activist.
Where that money will really count is on Super Tuesday, March 3, when 14 states, including Texas and California, will select nearly 1,400 delegates. The compressed early schedule means that it will be hard for those who prosper in Nevada and South Carolina to gear up financially for the Big Bang.
“We are the only ones who are going to be able to do that,” Fischer said. “We will be everywhere, and in great strength. There’s never been anything like it."
While they don’t like to talk about numbers (even as they consume them), the Bloomberg campaign is vast and getting more so, with literally thousands of staff and more than 100 operational officers, with more on the way.
“There is a lot of interest out there,” said Fischer. “He’s drawing the crowds. It’s real.”
Now that New Hampshire is over, and the next phase of the campaign is about to begin, we will soon find out how real is “real.”