Michael Bloomberg ramps up California campaign as rivals finish race in Iowa

Michael Bloomberg with former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villariagosa
Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg speaks with former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa after a campaign rally Monday at the Douglas F. Dollarhide Community Center in Compton.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The huge sums that billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg is dumping into ads for his presidential campaign have impressed Leslie Chiles of Sacramento. It’s not just that she agrees with him. It’s also that the money he’s devoting to oust President Trump seems limitless.

“Otherwise, he would be a nobody,” said Chiles, a retired social services worker who went to see the former New York City mayor speak Monday at a coffeehouse near the state Capitol. “Like every other Democrat, I’m looking for someone who can win.”

With Californians starting to vote by mail this week in the March 3 presidential primary, Bloomberg has already plowed $35 million of his personal wealth into television, radio and digital ads in the state, according to Advertising Analytics, an ad-tracking firm. It eclipses those of all of his opponents combined.


As much as his stands on climate change and other touchstone issues for Democrats, the extravagant spending itself is starting to convince some that Bloomberg, one of the richest people in America, might have the best shot at unseating Trump.

“It certainly helps,” said Chris Look, another Sacramento Democrat at the coffeehouse. The retired business manager supports Bloomberg and says he sees Trump as a liar with dangerous autocratic tendencies. “It’s quite a scary situation,” he said.

As the rest of the Democratic field focused on the Iowa’s caucuses and pivoted to next week’s New Hampshire primary, Bloomberg campaigned Monday in Sacramento, Fresno and Compton.

Not everyone was impressed. “No more billionaires,” a man carrying a “Billionaires Should Not Buy Elections” sign shouted at Bloomberg as the candidate posed for news cameras in front of his campaign bus in Compton.

Bloomberg joined the race so late — on Thanksgiving weekend — that it was in effect impossible for him to compete in Iowa and the other three states with contests in February: New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. But he has spent $304 million on advertising in more than two dozen other states that hold contests in March and beyond, according to Advertising Analytics.

California’s 415 delegates are the biggest prize at stake on Super Tuesday, when Texas and 12 other states will also hold Democratic contests.

In remarks to a few hundred people in the courtyard of a community center in Compton, Bloomberg said his rivals had “spent virtually all of the past few months in Iowa and the other early primary states and almost no time in California.”

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“California’s population and economy are the largest in the nation, so if you ask me, voters here deserve to hear from the candidates,” he said.

It appears Bloomberg has spared no expense. He has put 220 people on his payroll in California and plans to hire an additional 580 by next week, a top aide said.

The size of his logistics, communications and political staff scurrying among events Monday resembled the campaign machinery that surrounds major-party presidential nominees in the final weeks before a general election.

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The California spending has begun to pay off. A poll conducted for The Times last month by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies found 6% of likely voters favored Bloomberg in the March 3 primary, behind Bernie Sanders, 26%, Elizabeth Warren, 20%, Joe Biden, 15%, and Pete Buttigieg, 7%.

Ace Smith, a California Democratic strategist who was a senior advisor to Sen. Kamala Harris in her White House run, said Bloomberg’s fate depends on Biden faltering in the first four contests. If the former vice president gains momentum with victories before Super Tuesday, he said, Bloomberg will lose his opening to emerge as the alternative to a more liberal candidate like Sanders, the democratic socialist senator from Vermont.

“Bloomberg rises or falls based on Biden,” Smith said.

In California on Monday, Bloomberg emphasized his plans to reverse Trump’s policies on immigration, gun control and climate change.

 Michael Bloomberg
Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg campaigns Monday at Fresno City College.
(Michael Finnegan / Los Angeles Times)

“How can you look at television and not see the California fires, and the floods in Texas and what happened in Australia, and not understand that we’re living in very dangerous times, and if we don’t do something, we might not have a future at all?” Bloomberg asked the crowd in Sacramento.

Bloomberg also took pains to appeal to the state’s diverse coalition of Democrats. He billed his Fresno City College stop as a Latino event, headlined by former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The campaign brought in taco trucks to offer students free food. In Compton, one of the speakers introducing Bloomberg was Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, an African American.

A federal judge found that New York police stop-and-frisk tactics on Bloomberg’s watch as mayor violated the constitutional rights of African Americans and Latinos. Days before he announced he was running for president, Bloomberg apologized for mandating stop-and-frisk.

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After a weekend of weathering insults from Trump, Bloomberg also argued Monday that he was a tough New Yorker who could stand up to the “bully” if he were to win the Democratic nomination.

“There is nothing that Trump can do or can say that will hurt me,” he told the crowd in Fresno.