Bloomberg Tries to Get Past Stumbles Before Super Tuesday

Michael Bloomberg’s offer to lift three non-disclosure agreements and other steps taken in recent days are meant to move beyond his widely panned debate performance, a little more than week before he’ll be on the ballot in more than a dozen states on Super Tuesday.

Since the debate, Bloomberg has seen his favorability ratings drop in one poll, faced renewed attention to the work environment for women at his company, and been targeted by the liberal activist group MoveOn. Late Friday, Twitter announced that it had suspended 70 pro-Bloomberg accounts for possible violations of its rules on platform manipulation.

In addition, Citigroup compared Bloomberg’s proposed policies on Wall Street unfavorably to Elizabeth Warren’s, saying that his candidacy would not be a “benign and market friendly scenario” and a win would be “a less vanilla outcome” than presumed.

Citigroup economist Dana Peterson issued a note Friday saying that if Bloomberg were elected, “markets should expect more, not less, financial regulation,” and that companies, real estate investment trusts and the wealthy can expect “higher and more taxes,” She called Bloomberg one of “a growing minority of ultra-high-net-worth individuals advocating for higher taxes.”

(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

Painful Debate

Bloomberg acknowledged his painful performance at the Feb. 19 debate, the first Democratic contest he qualified for since jumping into the 2020 race. He quipped at an event in Salt Lake City Thursday, “So how was your night last night?”

Voters will get a chance to see more of the former New York City mayor in coming days, including at a CNN town hall on Monday and a Democratic debate Tuesday in South Carolina, where he’s not on the ballot in the Feb. 29 primary.

Some of the negative attention was inevitable, particularly as Bloomberg rose quickly in the polls and other candidates stumbled. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has emerged as the clear front-runner in the Democratic race, but Bloomberg ranks second or third in several national polls and Super Tuesday state polls.

The other Democratic contenders see both Bloomberg and Sanders as their top threats to the nomination, but they find the ex-Republican former mayor — who has campaigned primarily through a flood of TV and online ads — a better foil in a Democratic primary. For progressives like Sanders and Warren, in particular, the billionaire Bloomberg is a made-to-order target.

After Sanders won the Nevada caucuses, his third straight win of the popular vote, Bloomberg’s campaign warned that Democrats were backing the wrong horse.

‘Fatal Error’

“If we choose a candidate who appeals to a small base — like Senator Sanders — it will be a fatal error,” campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said in a statement Saturday night.

Since the debate, the Bloomberg campaign has taken some steps to address specific criticisms.

Bloomberg tweeted out a debate clip of him questioning Sanders for being a millionaire with three homes — one of the rare instances in which he took the offensive in the evening. The Bloomberg campaign also tweeted another clip, in which he asked if he were the only candidate on stage to start a business, but was criticized for editing it to make it look like the other Democrats were dumbstruck on the question.

Bloomberg also agreed to appear in an hourlong televised town hall on Monday, answering questions from South Carolina voters. Pete Buttigieg had criticized him at the debate for not “engaging with voters” on the campaign trail by entering the race late and relying on a barrage of advertising.

Turning Point?

After Sanders, Warren and Joe Biden attacked him over his support of a stop-and-frisk policing policy that overwhelmingly targeted young black and Hispanic men in New York City, Bloomberg sat down for an interview with broadcaster and civil rights activist Al Sharpton on MSNBC that airs on Sunday.

Sharpton has said he was glad Bloomberg apologized for the policy, starting with an appearance at a black church in Brooklyn a week before he announced his 2020 run.

And after Warren raised the non-disclosure agreements on gender discrimination at his business and flashed a sample release form at a campaign event, Bloomberg agreed to release women from three NDAs. That’s a move he had resisted since getting into politics two decades ago, most recently at the debate itself.

It’s too soon to tell whether the debate will mark a turning point or a momentary speed-bump for the campaign. Bloomberg’s effort is an unprecedented financial juggernaut that’s already spent more than $400 million on television ads, and he’s made clear he’s prepared to spend more than double that.

QuickTake: The Staggering Dollar Figures Fueling Campaign 2020

But there are limits to what money can buy. Morning Consult polls released Friday showed that Bloomberg’s net favorability rating among all Democratic primary voters fell 20 points after the debate.

In his interview with Sharpton, Bloomberg said there was nobody to blame for his poor debate performance but himself, and looked ahead to the next debate, to be held Tuesday in Charleston, South Carolina.

“I didn’t have a chance to really say what I wanted to say,” he said.

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