There is an adage that politics is very much a horse race. The best horse can leave the starting gate looking like the favorite. The race is tight over the next mile plus, but it looks like the leader is on the way to a victory. At the last moment, however, a gray horse comes along on the far outside and challenges the leader. It’s close at the end, but the gray horse wins, upsetting the entire field and surprising all the experts.
Weeks ago, it looked like former Vice President Joe Biden had a clear shot to be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. There still may be an outside chance that Biden, who I know and like, could be the winner, but more signs point to the long shot, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as the candidate who can walk away with the Democratic nomination.
For someone who got into the competition only a few months ago, Bloomberg has risen sharply in the polls, and is running a campaign that is far more sophisticated than all of his competitors’. It helps to have billions of dollars behind you, but look at Tom Steyer, another billionaire, who has failed to catch voters’ imagination. So, what happens next?
The biggest test for all the survivors is March 3, Super Tuesday. That day, voters in 15 states will cast ballots, and the only real organization in all those states is the Bloomberg machine. Taking part in multiple contests costs a fortune, and he’s the only candidate who has the funds to be competitive in all of them. By the time you read this, it’s estimated that Bloomberg will have spent over $325 million, and that number is rising quickly.
Bloomberg’s avalanche of spending isn’t just a dumping of dollars. He has built an organization that sells high-speed data. That organization has the ability to apply all of its corporate genius to a sophisticated campaign that will be able to compete with the Trump machine, and possibly outsmart it. New Yorkers have seen a steady flow of television and social media advertising. That’s just a trickle compared with the blizzard of ads in all the Super Tuesday states and many others.
Years ago, when Bloomberg first ran for mayor, I learned how high-tech his operation was. You could pick any house where there were voters, and the campaign could tell you such things as their tastes in movies, music, food and a variety of other preferences. The campaign monitored Facebook data, and would find dozens of ways for Bloomberg to appeal to the voters. There is no doubt that the Trump team has a great deal of similar information, but it will meet its match in the Bloomberg organization.
Everyone knows that you can’t win an election without foot soldiers. Bloomberg will soon have over 2,000 paid workers in almost all 50 states. He will have more than 1,000 storefronts armed with telephone banks and dedicated workers. All these facilities will have the benefit of data banks and the most up-to-date equipment. No Democratic candidate will be able to match that kind of operation.
The next two tests for all the potential party standard bearers will take place in Nevada and South Carolina. Sen. Bernie Sanders did poorly in both of those states in 2016. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg are new to those voters, and must spend money smartly and quickly. Biden has a good track record in both, and even after losses in New Hampshire and Iowa, he’ll be able to rekindle his campaign.
But if Bloomberg accumulates a fair number of delegates, the Democratic Convention in July could be an event of high drama. If no single candidate has a commanding lead, a well-funded Bloomberg could wind up being the winner. Hard to believe? That’s why politics is like horse racing.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.