Now that he’s climbed to fourth place in the national poll averages, it’s time for the Michael Bloomberg, Democratic Nominee exercise. A few quick reminders. This isn’t likely to happen. Put your money on Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders if the odds for them are the same as Mike. Elizabeth Warren is more likely too. The FiveThirtyEight model figures she’s better than 50/50 if she can manage an Iowa victory. Pete Buttigieg is more of an underdog than he was a month ago, but unlike Bloomberg, there’s a mathematical path for him to get a majority of delegates before the convention.
Which is another thing. Bloomberg will not have won enough of the required delegates before the convention. The math doesn’t work. Not only is he not on the ballot in the first four states, but many of the delegate-rich Super Tuesday states will begin early voting long ahead of the March 3 official primary date. So even if Bloomberg gets the most votes on Super Tuesday, he still won’t get the most votes in those states. And unless the field narrows far quicker than I can imagine today, even winning many of those states wouldn’t get him near a majority of the delegates awarded.
March 10 and March 17 are big delegate days too. By St. Patrick’s Day, a majority of delegates will have been awarded, and Bloomberg will still have a ton of work to do. Any victory scenario is based on having a plurality of delegates and making a deal prior to or at the convention, not having control of his first ballot destiny based on delegates won through open primaries and caucuses.
The good thing for Bloomberg is he can deal like no other. First, there’s money. He can and would entirely self-finance his fall campaign. Without taking a dime from the DNC or any donor, he would out-spend Trump. For the party establishment, rightly obsessed with preserving the House and winning the Senate, not to mention protecting their individual seats, the idea of being able to have donors concentrate entirely on Congress and state contests is intoxicating.
There’s a 10,000% chance Bloomberg would offer to put multiple billions up for other contests if it got him the delegates for the nomination. If you’ve wanted to be president for a couple of decades, have over $50 billion in assets, much of it relatively liquid, and are turning 80 soon, you don’t cheap out. If he’s gonna buy an election, he’s gonna buy an election.
The Bernie, Warren, and AOC sections of the party would lose their minds if Bloomberg were the nominee, no matter how it happened. As long as they’re getting spun, why pretend it’s anything other than a purchase? A Biden or Buttigieg would hope to win their hearts over time. Bloomberg will just figure if Trump is the alternative, enough progressives will hold their nose and grimace as they vote for him, rather than stay home and know the next four years is on them. After 2016, nobody is going to stay home because the polls say the Democrat is going to win.
Because he doesn’t represent a particular wing of the party (and won elections in New York as both a Republican and Independent), Bloomberg has plenty of room on who to pick as his running mate. If he needs to pick someone he doesn’t like, but who can bring him the delegates he needs, he won’t blink.
Choosing Bloomberg won’t piss off many more Democrats than a Sanders nomination. Just different Democrats. Unless Biden ends this early with wins in three of the first four states, it’s going to be a fractured party heading in to the fall, with Trump the one way to unify Team Blue.
So how do we get from here to there?
First, Biden can’t win Iowa. On the bright side, FiveThirtyEight figures there’s a 64% chance someone else takes the prize. Also, Buttigieg can’t win Iowa. If he does, then he’ll do well (possibly winning) in New Hampshire. While that won’t make him suddenly competitive in Nevada or South Carolina, a world where Buttigieg wins one or two states and Biden wins South Carolina is not a place where there’s enough space for Bloomberg. Mayor Pete is at a 19% chance of winning Iowa. Deducting from the 64%, we now are showing a 45% chance that Bloomberg is still alive after Iowa happens without him.
A Klobuchar victory is unlikely (3% odds), but perhaps not bad for Bloomberg if it happens. She would need a serious bounce to win New Hampshire, and even if she did, like Buttigieg, would have a hard time carrying that forward into the next two states or Super Tuesday. One reason she’s less of a threat than Buttigieg is financial. Klobuchar won’t be able to raise money fast enough to make a huge Super Tuesday dent. And though Buttigieg is better with older voters and whiter voters, Klobuchar is even more dependent on those demographics.
Part of what makes Bloomberg interesting is that he doesn’t have a huge age gap, gender gap, ethnic gap, education gap, or income gap. The most progressive voters won’t consider him, but he’s got room almost everywhere else, if not a strong base in any particular demographic. Buttigieg has a chance of winning Iowa, which makes his overall odds better than Bloomberg, but if that doesn’t happen, the ex-NYC mayor has better odds than the ex-South Bend, IN exec.
Either a Sanders or Warren win could work for Bloomberg. If Bernie wins, he’s in great shape heading to New Hampshire and becomes very likely to take the first two. He only trails Biden by a bit in Nevada, something that could evaporate quickly. While even three in a row won’t give Sanders enough momentum to take South Carolina, one shaky win for Biden there won’t get in Bloomberg’s way. And the Democrats who either dislike Sanders or fear his chances against Trump would flock to Mike. This is probably his best outcome.
A narrow Warren win in Iowa is ok also. She’s running fourth in New Hampshire at the moment. If her and Bernie split the first two states, it would ensure both stay around for a long time, making it difficult for either to win in most of the more diverse states. Biden still gets weakened by losing the first two, and Buttigieg is eliminated. In this scenario, instead of trying to replace Biden as the candidate to go head-to-head with Sanders, Bloomberg uses his unlimited funds to win a four-way battle of attrition.
If we assume Iowa goes favorably for Bloomberg, there are still pitfalls before he gets to start receiving votes. Biden is still in range in New Hampshire. Sometimes the Granite State ratifies Iowa’s findings, pushing someone who outperformed in the caucus to the front of contention. This happened for George McGovern in 1972, Jimmy Carter in 1980, Gary Hart in 1984, John Kerry in 2004, among others.
But sometimes, New Hampshire saves a candidate who was bloodied in Iowa. It salvaged Ronald Reagan in 1980, George H.W. Bush in 1988, Hillary Clinton in 2008. Right now, it looks like New Hampshire likes their neighbor senator, Bernie Sanders. He won by 20+ last time. And sometimes New Hampshire is consistent, like when it launched John McCain in 2000 and resurrected him in 2008.
But other times, it changes it’s mind. After deciding in 2008 that it was too soon to coronate Barack Obama and handing Hillary that key comeback win, she got flattened there in 2016. Should they decide that Joe must not go, a win there gives him good odds in Nevada. Should Biden win New Hampshire and then Nevada, we’re done.
This isn’t a probable series of events, but if Warren wins Iowa and then narrowly New Hampshire (remember, she has led the polling averages in both states at various times), then a Nevada win becomes possible too. Should she win the first three states, we’re probably also done. She is able to get the establishment behind her in a way Sanders can’t. And though many voters will look for an alternative, Warren can unify the party enough to wind this up early, with the idea that the sooner the focus turns to Trump, the better. She’s viewed favorably by about 70% of Democrats, and more than half have considered making her their first choice at some point in the past year.
Bloomberg does not need to win a single state on Super Tuesday. Which is good, because I don’t think he’s going to, unless it’s a Bloomie v. Bernie contest already. If Biden totally collapses, maybe he wins Virginia, even with more than two viable candidates. Perhaps Minnesota, assuming Klobuchar is gone. Possibly Massachusetts if Warren is seriously weakened. There just aren’t many places on the board. He’s too far behind in California to catch up. Early voting starts the same day Iowa caucuses.
As long as he’s a competitive second or third in several states, that’s good enough. He doesn’t need to worry about funding or media attention, or qualifying for debates. Bloomberg merely needs to keep showing progress. He doubled his polling support from 3%-5% to 6%-10% in his first six weeks. Doubling again in the next six, puts him in the 12%-20% range, which is plenty for Super Tuesday to help him.
Another batch of states, most notably Michigan, Missouri, and Washington vote on March 10. It would help if he won at least once, but again, not crucial, as long as none of his opponents sweep them. Sanders barely missed in Missouri last time, stole a win in Michigan, and easily won Washington. He also won North Dakota and Idaho. The only state he struggled in was Mississippi. Should he get 5 of 6 here, that’s not great for Bloomberg. Much as the establishment wants to stop Sanders, if he wins 60 or 70 percent of the first half of the primaries, he’s winning the nomination.
Assuming Bloomberg is still going and no other candidate is a presumptive nominee, we find out if he can really do this on March 17. Arizona, Illinois, Georgia, Ohio, and most importantly, Florida. You may recall another ex-NYC mayor put all of his chips on the Sunshine State in 2008. When they picked McCain, Rudy Giuliani went home to his future as Donald Trump’s master of distraction.
Sanders did terribly in Florida in 2016. His strength is the youngest voters, not the seniors running for the condo board at Del Boca Vista. It’s one thing if Biden beats Bloomberg in Alabama. That’s excusable. Florida isn’t. In 1976, the state ended George Wallace, when Jimmy Carter beat him one-on-one. Four years before, Wallace wrecked what was left of Ed Muskie, when he won there. More recently, in 2016, Marco Rubio’s leaky balloon popped. Florida has picked a few nominees and ended many more.
Either Bloomberg or Biden is going to have a loss they can’t explain. If neither wins, you can assume we’re going to see a very progressive nominee. NOTE: In a universe where Buttigieg wins IA/NH and is still kicking in mid-March, this is a 100%, no excuses, must get this done victory for him too. From here, the schedule thins out tremendously.
If he’s got Florida in his pocket, Bloomberg will have begun making Trump more than crazy by this point. He recently got under his skin by running an ad on Fox News. That was nothing compared to winning the state Mar-a-Lago is in by bashing Trump constantly and calling him a financial loser. This is something no Republican figured out (or executed properly if they did know) in 2016, but Bloomberg knows this is the president’s Achilles Heel.
Many of the other candidates are going to be running low on money. Everyone’s negatives will be high. Bloomberg has never depended on voters loving him or wanting to go out and knock on doors for him. The more transactional this gets, the more it gets dragged out, the better.
Puerto Rico, Louisiana, Wyoming, Alaska, and Hawaii don’t add up to many delegates, and won’t influence opinions on who should be the nominee very much. The only significant contest between 3/17 and 4/28 is Wisconsin. Sanders is polling well there now and won in 2016. Again, it would be helpful to avoid having Bernie win the other smaller states around it. This is another potential pitfall, and way for Sanders to get it done.
April 28 is Acela Day, with primaries in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. If Biden is still in the race, he’ll win Delaware, but Bloomberg needs the others. Should he fail to win New York, he’s done. From here forward, Bloomberg needs to win the vast majority of contests.
May 2: Guam (doesn’t matter), Kansas (needs this)
May 5: Indiana (must win)
May 12: Nebraska, West Virginia (must win at least one)
May 19: Kentucky, Oregon (must win at least one)
June 2: D.C., Montana, New Jersey (absolute must), New Mexico, South Dakota
Unless a still kicking Biden wins D.C., Bloomberg needs a clean sweep, or very close to it on the final day.
Remember, there’s better than 50/50 odds this whole exercise becomes moot when the Iowa caucus results are announced late on the evening of February 3. Even then, New Hampshire could easily end the speculation. But FiveThirtyEight is figuring a 16% chance no candidate has a delegate majority before the convention. And a decent amount of those scenarios have Bloomberg becoming a threat. Should he actually win the nomination (a 5% chance at most, based on my best guess today), it will look very much like what you just read.