Bloomberg targets Michigan, will visit Detroit Saturday

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Democrat Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City who's running for president, has his eyes on Michigan and will visit the state this weekend to open a campaign office in Detroit.

Timothy O'Brien, senior adviser to Bloomberg's campaign, made stops across the state this week ahead of Bloomberg's visit, which will happen Saturday. Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman, will be targeting Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — three swing states that President Donald Trump won in 2016 to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton — O'Brien said.

"The swing states are really important to us," he said.

Democratic presidential contender Michael Bloomberg attends a sustainable finance panel at the COP25 summit in Madrid, Tuesday Dec. 10, 2019.

Bloomberg's new campaign office will be in Eastern Market in Detroit. He joined the race for the Democratic nomination on Nov. 24, many months later than other top Democratic contenders, such as former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

But Bloomberg has been gaining some ground as he has used his personal wealth to outspend other candidates. He's already sponsored more than $100 million in advertisements nationally, including in Michigan, according to tracking from the firm Advertising Analytics.

Bloomberg will become the second Democratic candidate for president to open an official office in Michigan. The first was Warren, whose office in Detroit has been operational since the beginning of November, said Mike McCollum, her state director. Warren's campaign held an event to celebrate the office's opening on Dec. 10. The opening event drew about 135 people, according to the Warren campaign.

"Organizing is the heart of Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign — and Michigan for Warren is working to reach every voter, and earn every vote," McCollum said.

Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes in 2016 and held his second campaign rally of the year Wednesday in Battle Creek, where he attracted an estimated crowd of 5,400 and received nationwide television coverage in the wake of the House's impeachment of him. 

Warren and six other Democratic candidates for the presidency will participate in their final debate of 2019 in Log Angeles on Thursday night. Bloomberg, who entered the race late, didn't qualify for the debate. He didn't meet the requirement of having 200,000 unique donors because Bloomberg is self-funding his campaign.

Bloomberg is making a play for states that vote on Super Tuesday, March 3, which comes a month after the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3, O'Brien said. Michigan's presidential primary will take place a week after Super Tuesday on March 10.

Bloomberg co-founded the financial information and media company Bloomberg LP in 1981, according to a Forbes biography. He was the mayor of New York City from 2002 through 2013. Bloomberg's net worth is about $54 billion, according to Forbes.

O'Brien, a senior adviser to Bloomberg's campaign, was previously a reporter at The New York Times and wrote a 2005 biography about Donald Trump, entitled "TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald." The biography spurred Trump to file a $5 billion suit against O'Brien that was later dismissed.

O'Brien, who was the executive editor for Bloomberg Opinion, which is part of Bloomberg's media company, argued in an interview this week that Bloomberg is "everything Donald Trump says he is but isn’t."

"He’s an actually successful businessman," O'Brien said of Bloomberg. "He’s a real billionaire. He’s someone who does care about public service."

Laura Cox, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, criticized the former mayor's past efforts to limit the sale of sugary sodas and support gun control measures.

“President Trump has fought for the people of Michigan and our state’s economy is thriving with unemployment near historic lows,” Cox said in a statement. “Opening offices may get you some headlines, but only President Trump’s leadership will get the results we’ve seen in Michigan since he took office, and I am confident he will be rewarded by this state’s voters next November.”

However, some Democrats in the state have criticized the former mayor for financially supporting the campaigns of former GOP Gov. Rick Snyder. Bloomberg contributed $6,800 — the maximum a donor could give directly to a candidate at the time — to Snyder's re-election campaign in 2014, according to a campaign finance disclosure.

A Bloomberg-funded committee, Independence USA, spent $2.7 million on ads benefiting Snyder that year, according to tracking by the nonprofit Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Bloomberg has  helped members of both parties who have focused on issues the former mayor cares about, O'Brien said.

"I think he saw Snyder as someone who was observant about fiscal budgeting, who had an independent streak around education, and that appealed to him," the Bloomberg adviser said.

In 2018, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, a pro-gun control organization Bloomberg has funded, financially supported Democrat Dana Nessel in her successful campaign to become attorney general. Independence USA also spent $5 million to support Michigan Democrats Haley Stevens and Elissa Slotkin in their 2018 campaigns to win U.S. House seats held by Republicans, according to Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

“Defining him solely by his support for Snyder actually is a snapshot that doesn’t reflect the totality of what he’s done politically in the state of Michigan," O'Brien argued.

Adrian Hemond, CEO of the Lansing-based consulting firm Grassroots Midwest, compared Bloomberg's potential path to the Democratic nomination to Snyder's path to the GOP nomination for governor in 2010. 

Both Bloomberg and Snyder are moderates in crowded primary fields with other more ideological candidates who could divide opposition voters, Hemond noted.

"He’s literally running the Rick Snyder play nationally but on steroids," he said.

Hemond said he was skeptical that Bloomberg would be successful but said he wouldn't rule it out.