Bloomberg targets Michigan with $7.5M in ads, woos Detroit voters

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is spending millions of dollars in television ads and selling himself as the only viable candidate to beat Donald Trump as his campaign pushes to win Michigan's Democratic presidential primary.

The billionaire publisher has shelled out $7.5 million in the state on a flurry of TV ads through Feb. 4, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. He also has opened two offices in Detroit with plans to open 10 more around Michigan and grow the more than 60 organizers already on the ground.

In Detroit, supporters have been holding private meetings to introduce the candidate's views to voters they are hoping to woo.

Democratic Presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg speaks to supporters at the opening of his Eastern Market campaign office in Detroit on Saturday, December 21, 2019.

Bloomberg also has hired on high-profile, experienced political consultants such as Jill Alper, the Grosse Pointe resident who ran former Gov. Jennifer Granholm's campaign and worked on the Democratic presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.

The former mayor is scheduled to campaign in Detroit on Tuesday.

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The businessman entered the race in November and is skipping the first four contests in favor of investing in the Super Tuesday contests followed by the March 10 primaries, especially the biggest delegate haul in Michigan. Supporters argue Bloomberg has the experience, money and the right stands on the issues such as climate change, urban renewal, crime prevention and jobs to take votes away from Trump.

But Bloomberg also faces tough questions about his governing style in New York and his backing of the controversial "stop and frisk" policing tactics and an apology that came after he announced his run for the presidency.

"We believe that Mike Bloomberg is the best possible candidate to run against Trump in the general election and we're seeing that in the polling that's coming out," said Michael Kurtz, the Michigan campaign director for Bloomberg.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Bloomberg had the largest leads against Trump in head-to-head match-ups in Michigan, according to a Jan. 3-7 poll by Lansing-based Glengariff Group that was provided to The Detroit News. Biden has a 7 percentage point edge over Trump, 50%-43%, while Bloomberg led the president by 6 points, 47%-41.

"It's backing up that enthusiasm that we're seeing on the ground and putting the organizers and the infrastructure in place to make sure that we're turning out votes in every area of the state and that we're going toe-to-toe with Donald Trump in every corner of this state and not ceding any ground to him," Kurtz said.

But it will take more than Bloomberg's spending spree to win Michigan, said Richard Czuba, pollster and owner of Glengariff. 

"We've seen this in race after race after race in Michigan, money is clearly important and very valuable, but you've got to have a lot more that you add to it," Czuba said. "Money helps you buy name ID. But then you've got to have the organizational strength to be able to turn that into votes."

Gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar finished third in the 2018 Democratic primary despite spending $10.6 million of his own money "because it takes organizational strength in a primary," Czuba said.

The billionaire could take advantage of Michigan's open primary by attracting  "independents who may not support President Trump and want a say in the Democratic nominee. And that could give Bloomberg a boost with people who aren't necessarily being courted by the Democrats," he said.

Ex-mayor 'gets things done'

Alper said there's no question that Bloomberg is the best choice to face Trump "given his experience and the results of being someone who gets things done."

Critics have noted that Bloomberg was a Republican as mayor of New York City. But Alper said he played a key role in donating money that help Democrats back back control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 election.

And Michigan is a key in him winning, she said, and the hunt for wooing independents.

"I think that the mayor understands the importance of Michigan, not only in the nominating calendar but in winning the general election," Alper said. "People want a change. And the mayor's attractive because they want somebody who's been outside of institutional change who's gotten things done, whether it's climate or fighting and winning against the NRA."

Democratic Presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg autographs a photo for Larry Taylor during the opening of Bloomberg's Eastern Market campaign office in Detroit in December.

"And Democrats want to win," she said.

But Alper acknowledged that "time is sort of the challenge" given Bloomberg's late entry into a crowded Democratic primary field, "and we're putting all of our assets to work to make up for the deficit."

John Bennett, a former Detroit police officer who has run for Detroit City Council, isn't so sure about Bloomberg. A Biden supporter, Bennett gave the former mayor credit for at least talking about urban issues and putting money behind solving them.

But he said he has issues with Bloomberg's support of stop-and-frisk policies in New York.

"You wait until you decide to run for president to decide to apologize for your policy that disproportionately affected African-Americans and Latinos," said Bennett, who has been wooed by the Bloomberg campaign. "I don't know how sincere he was because he really pushed the stop and frisk thing and it really affected the black community."

He said he thinks Michigan voters will doubt Bloomberg's authenticity on urban issues. The former mayor, he said, should be spending his money on trying to help Democrats get control of the U.S. Senate. 

"I'm not sold on the whole Bloomberg thing," he said. "You're coming in late and you're spending all this money. I think most people will see it for what it is."

Bloomberg is hoping for a coming out party March 3 on delegate-rich Super Tuesday, when there will be 15 Democratic primaries, and a week later during the Michigan primary, Alper said.

"Usually this is a momentum game, and momentum is certainly going to be a part of the equation," she said. "But it is also a delegate game, and Michigan will be important."

Derrick Bartell (left), owner of Simplycasual, speaks with Democratic Presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg during a visit at Good Times along Detroit's Avenue of Fashion on Saturday, December 21, 2019 while Bloomberg was in the city campaigning.

New York controversies

Jamaine Dickens, a consultant who also joined the Bloomberg campaign, said he was already a supporter "before I ever had a conversation with the Bloomberg campaign."

Dickens said his focus has been solely on who "could actually take on Trump one on one" in a general election and he has not been impressed by the Democratic field. "Bloomberg's wealth is power," said the African-American consultant. 

"By and large, it came down to him being a doer. If you can take the helm of New York City on the heels of 9-11 and create 500,000 jobs and decrease crime by 50% and decrease incarceration and recidivism by nearly 40%," Dickens said.

On stop and frisk, Dickens said it's unfortunate that some voters only associate him with it and not his mayoral successes and myriad causes spending millions of dollars to save the environment.

"The truth of the matter is, 650 people were dying a year in the city of New York," he said. "And bold policy was required. And he took a bold policy stance and cut crime and homicide by 50% in doing it. When you say black lives matter, they mattered."

Bishop Edgar Vann, pastor of Second Ebenezer Church in Detroit, recently attended a private informational meeting about Bloomberg's candidacy.

Bloomberg should be "hit ... hard" with the stop-and-frisk issue, said Vann, who has not endorsed in the race but leans toward Biden. "Of course, he's apologized, but whether people are going to accept that or not will be up to the urban voters," the pastor said.

But Vann said he understands the public wants a good candidate who can beat Trump.

"People are looking for a candidate or a ticket that can win," Vann said. "I think that jury is kind of still out on that as to who can actually win. Iowa and New Hampshire don't particularly count to people here in Michigan because those states are not representative of the country."

Bloomberg has "unlimited resources at his disposal to do a different kind of campaign which is somewhat intriguing," Vann said, since the former mayor has focused on targeted states such as Michigan.

"I'm open to hearing anybody who can bring to me a comprehensive agenda, most especially an urban agenda, to this campaign. It's not been discussed," he said.

Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence greets Democratic Presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg during a campaign event in Detroit in December.

Bloomberg's time spent in the state and Detroit will bear fruit, Dickens said.

"You'd be hard pressed to step foot into a city in America that Michael Bloomberg hasn't spent his efforts and his money trying to effectuate change, and I think that shows what he's about," Dickens said. "That's somebody who really wants to make a difference."

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