It was all going to plan for Michael Bloomberg. The anti-gun billionaire made a splashy entrance into the presidential race in late November, and thanks to the ungodly amounts of cash he spent on everything from television ads to micro-influencers, he saw his approval ratings climb from the mid-single digits to 20% or more in national polls, vaulting him into second or third place behind Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.
Biden’s campaign stumbles in Iowa and New Hampshire brought panic to establishment Democrats, many of whom decided to back Bloomberg as the best “moderate” pick to topple Donald Trump in November. All Bloomberg had to do was keep spending an insane amount of cash in the Super Tuesday states, watch Biden crash and burn in South Carolina, and reap the lion’s share of delegates in places like California and Texas. After that, it would be a two-man race between Bernie and Bloomie, and Bloomberg believed he could win a contested convention, even if he didn’t get enough delegates to win the nomination outright.
Bloomberg’s game plan was working for the most part, right up until the moment he appeared on a debate stage for the first time alongside other Democratic candidates, and proceeded to beclown himself in front of millions of Americans, many of whom were getting a good look at him for the first time. Yes, Bloomberg had already come under criticism for his defense of stop-and-frisk, but the debate was the moment where Bloomberg couldn’t defend himself in carefully scripted and narrated campaign ads or ghostwritten press releases.
The debate took some of the wind out of Bloomberg’s sails, but what’s hurt him even more is Joe Biden’s resurgence in South Carolina, where he handily won the primary on Saturday. Since then, according to a Morning Consult poll, Biden’s gained seven points nationally. As for Bloomberg, well, it’s not good. Nationally, Bloomberg’s still polling at 19%, which is good enough for third place. In the states that vote on Tuesday, however, Bloomberg is losing ground.
In the average of polling from the 14 Super Tuesday states, Sanders leads by a wider margin, with 33 percent to 24 percent, although Biden has gained 7 points there as well. Bloomberg, who entered no early primary contests and will formally compete for the first time on Tuesday, is down 4 points in the average to 16 percent.
Both Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg’s endorsements of Joe Biden, meanwhile, have made it clear that Bloomberg simply doesn’t have the backing of most of the establishment wing of the Democrat Party, at least among those who haven’t received an influx of campaign cash from the billionaire. From Politico:
Biden’s campaign confirmed that Klobuchar will join him at an event in Dallas Monday night. Her decision came a day after the departure of Pete Buttigieg, which helped further consolidate support around Biden. Advisers to Buttigieg have said he is planning to endorse Biden as well.
Beyond that, pressure has been growing behind the scenes for billionaire Mike Bloomberg to drop out since last week, when polls began showing Biden had widened his lead in South Carolina.
According to Advertising Analytics, Bloomberg has yet to book TV ads after Super Tuesday.
A source with knowledge of the conversations said talks were occurring at the staff level between the Biden and Bloomberg campaigns since last week. A separate source said high-level donors who had been persuaded to hold back on Biden following devastating losses in Iowa and New Hampshire had started pushing back, telling Bloomberg team members they were likely to shift back to Biden.
It’s absolutely ludicrous to expect Bloomberg to drop out the day before Super Tuesday, when his entire strategy has been to focus on winning those primaries. However, Bloomberg needs some big wins on Super Tuesday if he’s going to be a viable candidate, and the big question is where do those victories come from? Recent polls have him tied or near the lead in Virginia and Oklahoma, but that’s about it. He’s running fourth in California and third or fourth in most polling of Texas (though he did come in second in one poll). That simply won’t allow Bloomberg to collect the delegates he needs to win the nomination outright, and if Bernie Sanders has a big night on Tuesday, the prospects of a contested convention will likely slip away.
Will Buttigieg and Klobuchar throwing their support behind Biden be enough to propel him to victory in Texas? California still looks likely to go for Sanders, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win Massachusetts too. North Carolina is a toss-up between Biden and Sanders, but Bloomberg doesn’t stand a chance.
It’s possible that Bloomberg’s presidential campaign fizzles on Super Tuesday, but as he told reporters Monday afternoon, he’s in it to win it, and as long as he sees a path to victory (which includes a brokered convention), I think he stays in the race. What if Bloomberg’s performance on Super Tuesday shuts down the possibility of him winning the election? Bloomberg has said he won’t consider a third party run, but I’m not convinced. He was doing pretty well until he had to hit the debate stage, and if he’s running as an independent he could use any number of surrogates to get out his message while his unlikeable self remains largely off-screen or presented to voters in carefully scripted soundbites. I’d still put the odds of a third party Bloomberg run at less than 50-percent, but well above zero.