Things are looking good for Joe Biden. For all his mumbles, stumbles, grumbles, fumbles in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, he’s still the front-runner – and by a sizable margin.
Feisty Senator Elizabeth Warren, considered his chief rival, has been receding recently, her controversial, socialist-sounding medicare-for-all policy deemed a prime cause. With the country’s economic engine humming, Americans don’t appear to be looking for radicalism. Given the anarchic tendencies of the current administration, normalism – were there such a word – might do. Among Democrats, middle-of-the-road Joe has that territory covered.
Or should we say, used to have it covered. That was until the $52-billion man arrived. Michael Bloomberg, the three-term mayor of New York, the Republican turned independent turned Democrat had backed away from a challenge for the nomination in March.
He changed his mind because he didn’t think the party could beat Donald Trump. In particular, he didn’t like the sight of the Democrats moving left under Ms. Warren and Bernie Sanders.
It’s therefore a puzzle that he has entered the race. Because in doing so, he’s likely increased the chances of one of the leftists winning.
Virtually every political handicapper thinks Mr. Bloomberg will cut into Mr. Biden’s centrist support more than that of anyone else. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s operatives, who are backing Mr. Biden, were among those angered upon hearing the news. Their view is that the late Bloomberg entry puts up a big banner saying Mr. Biden doesn’t have it. It also deprives Mr. Biden of much-needed financial support from Wall Street where Mr. Bloomberg has so many friends.
The fast-rising Pete Buttigieg also has reason to be dismayed because he too was basing his chances on attracting party moderates.
The Biden camp’s fears are not based on the likelihood that Mr. Bloomberg might win. Hardly anyone believes that. But the worry is that the New Yorker could capture 10 to 15 per cent of the vote in some major primaries, making things much more difficult for the Biden candidacy.
Mr. Bloomberg is respected for his work as mayor, for his depth of knowledge on the issues, for the vast sums he has spent on philanthropy and for his commitment to causes such as gun control and climate change. He is 77, the same age as Mr. Biden, but comes across as more alert than his opponent who occasionally appears to be struggling to maintain his train of thought.
With his late entry, Mr. Bloomberg is passing up on the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries where the rest of the Democratic contenders have been pounding the turf all year long. He will wait until Super Tuesday, March 3, when many states are up for grabs.
With his fortune, he’s already made a US$37-million ad buy. He could spend hundreds of millions on his bid. Many Democrats recoil at the notion that he’s a Michael-come-lately who thinks he can buy the nomination.
In 2009, he spent US$102-million in winning a narrow victory for a third mayoralty term. It worked out to about $174 per vote. It’s been estimated that at that rate it would cost him US$12-billion to win the presidency, an amount he could well afford. Such is the sad state of American democracy that it gives the wealthy such an imposing advantage.
Of course, money often doesn’t translate to victory. The Hillary Clinton campaign spent about twice as much as Donald Trump in her 2016 losing effort. As for coming into the race at a late date, another former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, tried that in the Republican primaries in 2008 and failed miserably.
Mr. Bloomberg will also have difficulty appealing to black and minority communities. As mayor he instituted a stop and frisk policing policy that was felt far more among minorities and that he apologized for upon entering the race. “I got something important really wrong,” he admitted.
The major advantage Mr. Biden has over his opponents is in his broad appeal to African-Americans. He is not expected to win either Iowa or New Hampshire but with its large black voter population, the South Carolina primary will likely give him a victory to thrust him back into the limelight before Super Tuesday.
That’s when Mr. Bloomberg has to make his presence felt. If he does, the Democratic race could go all the way to the convention in July in Milwaukee.
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