Bloomberg's Bet On Michigan
While some of the biggest names in the race to become the Democratic nominee for President dropped out ahead of Super Tuesday, one candidate’s big gamble doesn’t start until today. Mike Bloomberg has spent a huge amount of money in Michigan ahead of the state’s primary next week, and he’s hoping the payoff could be a share of the state’s 147 delegates.
The Pivot County
It’s overcast and snow is on the horizon in Saginaw, Michigan—one of the twelve counties in the state that voted twice for President Obama and then for President Trump.
In 2008, Barack Obama handily won the county with 58 percent of the vote to John McCain’s 41 percent. In 2012, Obama’s margin in the county narrowed netting over 55 percent of the vote, with Mitt Romney getting 43 percent. The tides turned in 2016, when President Donald Trump triumphed in Saginaw—winning just over 48 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 47 percent.
The slim 2016 victory and gradual change is why Bloomberg sees an opportunity in places Saginaw.
Kellie Green is out canvassing for Bloomberg. “She may be in Florida for the winter,” she says steeling herself for another unanswered knock. But Elizabeth Krajkowski is home and headed to the door.
“Hi, how are you?” Green coos before getting into her campaign spiel.
Krajkowski is an older woman with gray hair and hearing aids who says she’s considering Bloomberg.
“I’ve heard all the commercials and I’ve seen ‘em all on TV. So, I’ve seen a lot of him,” says Krajkowski.
Mike Bloomberg has monopolized ad time in Michigan. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network he’s spent almost 12 million dollars, that’s more than both Republican and Democratic candidates spent in the run up to the primary in 2016.
Prior to qualifying for the ninth Democratic debate in Las Vegas, Bloomberg had been criticized for buying his way into the election. His unprecedented spending on TV ads in Super Tuesday and later primary states—allowed him to present his own narrative to voters with little cross examination from other candidates or the scrutiny of the campaign trail.
The billionaire has blitzed Michigan televisions with 40 different ads more than 19,000 times, according to MCFN. The money he’s spent on Facebook ads alone in the last 90 days, $2.5 million, dwarfs the next highest spending candidate, Donald Trump.
Senior advisor to the Bloomberg campaign, Antha Williams visited Lansing in February to unveil Bloomberg’s climate policy tailored for the state. She said that spending is no accident.
“We’re making really big investments in the places where, frankly, no one has been campaigning other than Donald Trump,” said Williams.
And, it’s not just the ads that have been flooding Michigan airwaves—the Bloomberg campaign has opened up 10 offices across the state in February, stepping out of the metro Detroit bubble to places like Saginaw, Traverse City, and Kalamazoo.
It has the biggest footprint of any Democratic campaign with over 100 paid staffers; Bloomberg's campaign dwarfs the next biggest paid operations of frontrunner Democrats, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. He has essentially scaled to a general election campaign footprint—a little less than a month before the state’s primary.
I actually do not think I remember a presidential candidate having their own office ever
Dave Adams is a teacher who’s been a longtime member of the Saginaw County Democrats. He’s been active in eight presidential campaign cycles in the state, ever since he held out Michael Dukakis signs as a high-schooler in 1988. He said he’s never seen an office this early in Saginaw.
“I actually don’t think I remember a presidential candidate having their own office ever,” said Adams.
That infrastructure is part of the bet the former Mayor of New York City is placing on Michigan in order to have a shot at winning the state’s primary.
Maurice Patterson is one of Bloomberg’s regional field directors. The retired firefighter has lived in Saginaw all of his life, and now he’s hitting the pavement for Bloomberg. He knocks on a door and finds it’s one of his old friends, MT Thompson.
“I’m watching him,” says Thompson.
‘You leaning? You leaning towards him?” peppers Patterson before Thompson adds a caveat, “I’ll say only because I don’t think Bernie can win.”
The Moderate Path?
Bloomberg’s bet is that there’s a lot of people like Thompson in Saginaw, especially the more rural outlying areas of the county. In a memo obtained from the campaign polling from areas the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee designates as “frontline congressional districts” 39 percent of voters said they would be less likely to vote for a Democratic member of Congress if Sanders was the nominee.
The poll included Michigan’s battleground 8th and 11th Congressional districts which were flipped by Democrats in 2018. Victories, a Bloomberg affiliated SuperPAC helped to bankroll.
The campaign is hoping to shore-up their support in the state in places like Saginaw, with more moderate voters weary of progressive candidates.
The city of Saginaw has lost tens of thousands of people in the last decade moving from a population of around 100,000 to 48,000 according to the last census. Schools have closed and crime has gone up.
“People go to college; they don’t come back. There’s not a lot of jobs here anymore. Like it used to be. We used to be a General Motors plant city. We had nine general motors plants. Now we have one. All those jobs—that’s 30,000 jobs—are gone,” said Patterson.
But, in the past four years, the city has seen a number of reinvestments. Patterson says people have started to move back downtown.
That improvement is part of what could be making local Democrats nervous a progressive Democrat couldn’t beat Trump. Patterson says, he thinks only a moderate can oust the President.
Bernie Sanders, by virtue of the infrastructure from the last time he ran, probably is in the drivers seat to some extent in Michigan, or at least considered the favorite. I just find it very hard to believe that unless Bloomberg proves that he can win delegates, he will win Michigan
Yet Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders did win the state’s 2016 primary.
Garrett Arwa, is a former executive director of the Michigan Democratic Party. He led Democratic campaigns in the state during the Obama years. Arwa said he’s skeptical that Bloomberg’s unprecedented bet on Michigan will pay off.
“Bernie Sanders by virtue of the infrastructure from the last time he ran probably is in the driver’s seat to some extent in Michigan, or at least considered the favorite. I just find it very hard to believe that unless Bloomberg proves that he can win delegates, will win Michigan,” said Arwa.
If Bloomberg doesn’t do well on Super Tuesday, his path to winning Michigan delegates next week could narrow to a bottleneck, even with a massive campaign footprint.
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