Michael Bloomberg, buoyed by a wave of self-funded campaign advertising, emerged as a serious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination this week, according to a new national poll.
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In the first national survey since the Iowa caucuses ended with former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg eking out a slight victory in the delegate race over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Bloomberg surged to third place at 15 percent. He trailed only Sanders at 25 percent and former Vice President Joe Biden at 17 percent, according to the Quinnipiac University poll released on Monday.
The former New York City mayor’s sudden ascent in the polls — in Jan. 28, he was polling at just 8 percent — comes amid his somewhat unorthodox campaign strategy: He is skipping the first four nominating contests, instead concentrating his efforts and massive personal fortune on the 14 delegate-rich states, including California, that will cast their ballots on Super Tuesday (March 3).
One of the richest men in the world, Bloomberg has already poured a staggering $344 million into blanketing the airwaves with ads since launching his nascent campaign in November, according to ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics.
Although Bloomberg skipped the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, his presence in the 2020 race did not go unnoticed: Following unprecedented chaos in Iowa, Bloomberg authorized his advisers to double television spending and to expand his campaign payroll with plans to hire more than 2,000 employees. And in New Hampshire, Bloomberg won the votes of a tiny community that, per tradition, is the first to cast ballots in the presidential primary. He received three write-in votes, one from a Republican and two from Democrats. The remaining two went to Sanders and Buttigieg.
"Is the Bloomberg camp prepping the white horse for him to ride to the rescue?” said Quinnipiac University poll analyst Tim Malloy. “Maybe not yet, but without setting foot in Iowa or New Hampshire, he is suddenly a looming shadow over the primary field.”
His strong showing gives him two of the four qualifying polls that he needs to participate in the ninth Democratic debate in Las Vegas on Feb. 19.
Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-Democrat, cofounded the financial information and media company Bloomberg LP in 1981. He now owns about 88 percent of the business, according to Forbes, which is worth a reported $10 billion.
Accompanying Bloomberg’s swift rise to the top, however, are questions about how his media organization will cover his campaign and, if the trend continues, his status as a frontrunner.
At the end of November, John Micklethwait, the editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, sent a memo to the roughly 2,700 journalists employed at the company explaining how their 2020 election coverage would work. Although journalists will write about day-to-day developments in the campaign, they will avoid in-depth investigations of the Democratic field. It resembles how the news outlet covered Bloomberg’s 12-year tenure in City Hall.
“We will write about virtually all aspects of this presidential contest in much the same way as we have done so far,” Micklethwait wrote. “We will describe who is winning and who is losing. We will look at policies and their consequences. We will carry polls, we will interview candidates and we will track their campaigns, including Mike’s. We have already assigned a reporter to follow his campaign (just as we did when Mike was in City Hall). And in the stories we write on the presidential contest, we will make clear that our owner is now a candidate.”
At the time, Micklethwait said Bloomberg’s coverage of President Trump would not change, unless their boss became his direct opponent in November. Bloomberg News did not immediately respond to a FOX Business request for comment about what those changes would entail.
On the business side, there are also questions about how Bloomberg would disentangle himself from the company. When he served as New York City mayor, he recused himself from day-to-day operations but reserved the right to weigh in on longer, strategic decisions.
During an interview with Radio Iowa in 2018, long before he launched his presidential bid, Bloomberg suggested he would either place his stake in the company in a blind trust or sell it if he became president.
“I think at my age, if selling it is possible, I would do that,” he said at the time. “At some point, you’re going to die anyway, so you want to do it before then.”
With the realization that Bloomberg has become a top-tier presidential candidate -- an aggregate of national polls by RealClearPolitics has him in fourth place, behind Biden, Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren -- he’s also facing increased scrutiny.
The 77-year-old found himself the target of new ire on Tuesday, after progressive podcast host Benjamin Dixon uncovered audio of a speech that Bloomberg delivered to the Aspen Institute in 2015, which he blocked from public release at the time.
In an audio clip of the speech, the billionaire acknowledged that "stop and frisk,” the controversial policing strategy that he supported as mayor for a decade, targeted minority "kids" whom cops must throw "up against the wall" to disarm.
“Ninety-five percent of murders -- murderers and murder victims -- fit one M.O.,” he said. “You can just take a description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops. They are male, minorities, 16 to 25. That’s true in New York, that’s true in virtually every city … And that’s where the real crime is.”
Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale shared the audio on Twitter, writing “#BloombergIsARacist,” shortly after Trump deleted a tweet with a similar message.
Since entering the primary, Bloomberg has apologized for supporting stop and frisk, which disproportionately targeted men of color. He’s since said that he regrets the impact the policy had and that “no one should ever feel targeted or judged by the color of their skin, especially by police.”
“I was wrong,” Bloomberg said in November. “And I am sorry."
In a statement posted on his campaign website, Bloomberg claimed the "inherited" practice of stock-and-frisk was part of an effort to reduce gun violence and insisted he cut it back by "95 percent" by the time he left office.
"I regret that and I have apologized," he said. "And I have taken responsibility for taking too long to understand the impact it had on Black and Latino communities."
"The challenge of the moment is clear: we must confront this President and do everything we can to defeat him," he added. "The President’s attack on me clearly reflects his fear over the growing strength of my campaign. Make no mistake Mr. President: I am not afraid of you and I will not let you bully me or anyone else in America. Between now and November, I will do everything I can to defeat you whether I am on the ballot or not.”