Finley: Bloomberg places big bet on Michigan

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

If it feels as if every third commercial you see on television is a Michael Bloomberg for president pitch, you’re not far off.

The multibillionaire hopes Michigan will be the capstone of his start-from-behind strategy to capture the Democratic presidential nomination, and he’s investing heavily to assure that outcome.

Bloomberg skipped Iowa, New Hampshire and the other early primary and caucus states to concentrate on the delegate-rich Super Tuesday primaries on March 3, and Michigan on March 10.

“After Michigan, we hope to be in play as a major contender, and have the support that validates that,” says Jamaine Dickens, principal of Compass Strategies and senior adviser to Bloomberg’s Michigan campaign. “A lot of people think of him as a dark horse because he wasn’t in Iowa and New Hampshire and hasn’t been on the debate stage. They can’t grasp his viability. But after Michigan, that changes.”

Democratic presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg talks to supporters in Detroit on Feb. 4.

To make sure it changes, Bloomberg has basically written a blank check for the campaign here. He has a 65-person campaign staff, which will grow to 85 in the coming days. They are staffing 10 offices statewide, including two in Detroit.

“We have the largest team on the ground ever assembled here for a presidential primary,” Dickens claims. 

The emphasis appears to be courting Detroit voters, who are always key to winning a Michigan Democratic primary.

Along with Dickens, who was communications director for former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Bloomberg has hired former state Sen. Ian Conyers, nephew of the late Congressman John Conyers and a failed congressional candidate, and Dan DeFoe, an African American who worked for U.S. Sen. Gary Peters. In addition, he landed Jill Alper of Grosse Pointe, one of the state’s most sought-after Democratic consultants.

Bloomberg has been tagged with having a problem with black voters, based on his stop-and-frisk and other tough-on-crime measures while he was mayor of New York City. An audio tape leaked last week featuring comments by Bloomberg that could be seen as derogatory to minority communities didn’t help.

But last week, Bloomberg picked up a major endorsement from Wayne County Executive Warren Evans that the campaign hopes will help quiet talk of an African American problem.

“We don’t see that he has a problem with African Americans,” Dickens says. “The Number One issue for all Democrats, including African Americans, is beating Donald Trump.

“We’re talking about how he’s helped African Americans in the nation’s largest city by decreasing crime, increasing affordable housing and boosting black-owned businesses.”

Bloomberg has already been to Michigan twice, both times stopping in Detroit, including once to meet with 100 black pastors. He’s expected to return at least twice more before the March 10 balloting.

The campaign has reportedly spent $8 million in the state already, which explains the frequency of those television ads.

With Democrats showing increasing ambivalence toward the field of presidential candidates who have been chasing their votes for the past year, Bloomberg’s strategy of coming in at the end as a fresh and very well-funded face may turn out to be genius. But that depends on how Michigan receives him.

Catch Nolan Finley on “One Detroit” at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on Detroit Public Television.