A Tale of Two Launches

A few weeks ago, Michael Bloomberg and Deval Patrick concluded the 2020 Democratic contest couldn’t survive without them. Somewhere north of $60 million in Bloomberg dollars later, his effort is showing a noticeable pulse. Meanwhile, Patrick is discovering a presidential campaign can be better cover than joining the Witness Protection Program.

The degree of his failure to launch can’t be overstated. There’s a new Morning Consult poll. Each of the fifteen surveyed candidates got at least a percent. Except Patrick. He’s trailing the firm of Bennet, Delaney, and Williamson. We all know one poll is just that. He’s under one percent in the Real Clear Politics average. Trailing at least 12 others. One of whom, Kamala Harris, is out. I’d tell you if he’s ahead of Bennet, Delaney or Williamson if they displayed any of them.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg is running fifth nationally. You can say that’s not a great return on that sort of spending, but most candidates haven’t seen fifth place yet. His numbers aren’t consistent yet, but his better results have him as high as 7%. Ask Amy Klobuchar or Cory Booker what they would give for a single result like that.

He has almost 90 days until Super Tuesday. Prediction markets have him at about a 10% chance of winning the nomination. Sometimes they’re quirky, and while he has the fifth best odds, Hillary Clinton is number six. The four people in front of him have the same clear weaknesses they had when he entered.

You get delegates by winning at least 15% of the vote in a congressional district. Is it impossible to see how he could double or triple his support in some key suburban districts in a three month period? The odds of a Bloomberg nomination are still correctly low, but he could influence the proceedings without winning. And as we know, he’s got plenty of money to stay in until the convention.

I’m going to call this a very successful launch. He went from zero to relevant in a month. Sure, he’d have liked to be at 10% nationally right now, but that wasn’t a likely outcome. A third to half of the party won’t consider him unless Donald Trump is the only alternative.

Joe Biden has his clearly established group of fans. So far, they’re immovable. Team Bernie isn’t switching over to one of the very billionaires he’s railed against since he was in the womb. Pete Buttigieg, who has some clear overlap, is riding a momentum wave. There may be more Warren-Bloomberg crossover than I think, but a high percentage of her current supporters are looking to vote for someone more progressive, and would prefer a female candidate.

Even accounting for the Harris exit, there just weren’t that many supporters immediately available to him. I think he took whatever he possibly could have. You can compare Bloomberg to the other (financially lesser) billionaire who cares a lot about global warming, Tom Steyer.

Bloomberg is ignoring the earliest states to concentrate on Super Tuesday. Steyer is focusing on them to keep qualifying for debates. They’re each outspending the rest of the field in their targeted places. And it’s working. Bloomberg’s national numbers are well ahead of his first states numbers. The reverse is true for Steyer.

We don’t know how interchangeable the two are since they’re purposely avoiding each other at the moment. I’d suspect there’s a decent amount of similarity, though Bloomberg has 12 years experience as the mayor of the largest city in the nation, and Steyer has never held office.

I’m also curious if there’s a ceiling for this sort of candidate. It’s great for Bloomberg that he’s already fifth, but Steyer is there in Nevada and South Carolina. Maybe it’s not possible for either to join the top group. So far, the variance for both has more to do with who took the survey than when it was taken. Steyer jumping from 1% to 2% in CBS/YouGov for South Carolina (he does far better in other surveys) doesn’t scream momentum.

Also, Tom Steyer isn’t going to be the nominee. So the next hurdle for Bloomberg is to clear the Steyer Line and consistently record better national numbers (or key Super Tuesday state numbers) than Steyer is in the earliest states. That’s when we know there’s a constituency for Bloomberg that’s something beyond “hey, maybe the best way to beat Trump is with another billionaire.”

Sorry, I forgot about Patrick again. Meant to discuss him. What happened? Or didn’t?

Remember the John Hickenlooper campaign? What about Steve Bullock? Right. Well pretend they entered the race late. If anyone thought the problem with Hick was excessive goofiness, Bullock proved that wasn’t it. If we thought their issue was excessive whiteness, Patrick is here to make sure we realize that didn’t matter either.

Buttigieg broke through somehow. Every four years, a candidate makes a larger than expected impact. This time it was him. And to a lesser extent, Andrew Yang. Besides them, so far, we have the three most famous people (Biden, Sanders, Warren), and billionaires.

Perhaps Klobuchar uses her adjacency to break through in Iowa and becomes a contender. We’ll worry about that when it happens. Until then, it seems clear the majority of the electorate is trusting people they had heard of in 2016, or who can spend with (or above) Trump. Patrick is neither of those things.

Almost half of the Democratic primary electorate is non-white. That non-white portion is being even more cautious, particularly African Americans and Latinos. Buttigieg is doing worse with them, as are the billionaires. In part, Patrick skipped running a year ago because his wife had a major health issue. He also realized Harris and Booker were likely stronger candidates.

Despite their struggles, I think that’s still true. Both were better known nationally than Patrick, and have resumes that are a better fit for what’s popular this year. But neither fit the above qualifications for 2020. As tempting as it was for Patrick to think he could avoid their mistakes, it’s likely they would have needed perfect foresight to clear the campaign rapids safely.

At least he won’t have to wonder if he could have done it.

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