Bloomberg's Gamble

Tim Aker wonders whether former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's primary strategy will work better than it did for the last former New York Mayor who tried it.

Tim Aker
On 9 February 2020 21:02

Rudy Giuliani tried it and spectacularly bombed in 2008.  Now, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg is making the same gamble as he attempts to become the Democratic Presidential nominee.  Both faced a crowded field, eschewed the early races, and put their eggs in one basket – big state grabs later on in the primary process.


As candidates announced for 2008, Giuliani started out as the clear favourite with Senator John McCain.  McCain avoided Iowa, as did Giuliani, but McCain had historic support in New Hampshire that saw him, a moderate, with enough backing to counter the Huck-a-boom of Mike Huckabee. The late Fred Thompson, a friend of McCain’s, peeled off enough conservative support from Huckabee to allow McCain through in South Carolina.  After South Carolina it was virtually all over.    By the time Florida voted on February 5th, where Giuliani had dug in, he was wiped out, getting little over 14% of the vote.


For the Democrats in 2020, Bloomberg will face a similar problem.  Pete Buttigieg’s surprising ‘victory’ in Iowa, he has effectively stolen the limelight from Sanders, is a direct threat to Bloomberg.  A moderate with a career outside Washington, he fills the space on the spectrum Bloomberg is trying to occupy.


By Super Tuesday on 3rd March, Buttigieg could well have seen off another moderate, Vice President Biden, hit hard by a fourth place finish in Iowa.  Suddenly Mayor Pete is the de-facto standard bearer for moderate, centrist Democratic politics.  He’ll also have the Big Mo.


What, then, for Bloomberg?  For all the money being pumped into the Super Tuesday delegate-heavy states, what price momentum, especially when Buttigieg is getting more free airtime than money can buy?  If Buttigieg wins South Carolina, then it’s surely all over for Mayor Mike? 


That no one clear winner could take to the stage on the night and declare victory in Iowa is perhaps Bloomberg’s salvation.  It denied Buttigieg the platform to be called ‘the winner’, as campaigns went on to New Hampshire, where Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren duke it out for liberal votes.

This is Bloomberg’s opportunity – by Super Tuesday the whole race could be in disarray.  With Trump marching on, hailing the improved economy, the Democrats will squabble and take the entire Party down with them.  By March 3rd, Bloomberg could well soar on Super Tuesday.  But he’ll have to clear up the mess left for him.


Tim Aker served as an MEP for the East of England between 2014 and 2019.

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