As he prepares to enter the crowded presidential race, Michael Bloomberg is receiving encouragement from moderate Democrats and even Republicans who see him as the Democrat who can win in 2020.
To do so, however, the billionaire and former New York City mayor will have to appeal to a broader electorate than those who support his pragmatic, largely centrist politics. In the Jewish community, at least, that will test his appeal among at least three main constituents: Democratic moderates, mostly young progressives and Jewish Republicans who want to turn the page on the President Donald Trump era.
Jay Lefkowitz, who has served in the administrations of both George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, thinks he’ll certainly have appeal among those moderate Republicans.
“My guess is he would draw a significant number of voters from Republicans,” said Lefkowitz. “I’m not sure why Republicans would not vote for him for president.”
“He is a more attractive candidate than any of the announced Democrats and he could be a formidable opponent to Trump,” said Lefkowitz. “He appeals to a broad cross section of Americans. He is fiscally conservative, socially liberal and believes in a strong national defense. That makes him a very formidable candidate in the general election.”
Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a Republican who has worked for both Democratic and Republican elected officials, said he would not only vote for Bloomberg, 77, but has told him he would work for him. Should another Democrat win the party’s nomination, Wiesenfeld said he would vote to re-elect Trump.
“If I were Mike Bloomberg — and I have said this to him directly — I think many Americans will look past his Jewishness,” he said. “I think Americans did that already with Joe Lieberman [Al Gore’s vice presidential running mate in 2000]. As Jews, we are in a better situation if we have Bloomberg as the Democratic nominee. … I would give him my vote because I know what he did for the city and I see how the city is deteriorating right now under progressive leadership, which I regard as regressive. As much as Trump deserves our gratitude, there is something greater at stake — we would be losing bipartisan support for Israel because of the progressives on the Democratic side.”
Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic campaign strategist, said Bloomberg’s post-mayoral record would appeal to traditional and progressive Democrats alike.
“He has promoted issues that both generations care about – climate change, public health and illegal guns,” he said. “And he has the money and is surrounded by good people — but it will be a tough fight.”
Billionaire hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman told CNBC that he intends to help Bloomberg with fundraising should he stick to his moderate policies. The New Jersey philanthropist has given to both Republican and Democratic candidates, but lately has been sparring with Sen. Elizabeth Warren over her proposed tax on the highest earners.
The cable network said Cooperman is one of several Wall Street executives who are preparing to help Bloomberg “in any way they can if he runs for president.” And Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reportedly called Bloomberg months ago to ask him to run.
But Bloomberg’s popularity with the moneyed class and his party history — a lifelong Democrat who ran for mayor as a Republican and left the party in 2007 — might work against him. Progressives are providing the energy in this campaign, noted Kevin M. Wagner, chair of the political science department at Florida Atlantic University.
“Presumably he and [Vice President Joe] Biden will compete for the same people, but that is not where the energy of the party is now,” he said. “It is on the political left and I’m not sure what his plan is to change that.”
A recent New York Times/Siena College Poll of primary voters in six general election battleground states confirmed the strength of moderate Democrats in the party. It found that 62 percent prefer a moderate presidential nominee who would seek common ground with Republicans – and beat Trump — rather than promise an ambitious, progressive agenda.
Wagner said the Democratic Party is “more moderate than many people perceive, but the activists, a lot of the donor base, and those who work on campaigns are from the progressive side of the party. The secret to winning a campaign is not to get the most people to like you, but to get the most people who vote to like you. To some degree, a New York billionaire may not appeal to [Sen. Bernie] Sanders or [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren supporters and they may just stay home. The anti-Trump animus is not enough [to compel them to vote]. … He is going to have challenges, especially if the anti-establishment part of the Democratic Party is driving the message.”
Another of those challenges will be attracting African-American voters. Bob Liff, a Democratic consultant, said Bloomberg brings “both positive and negative baggage from his mayoralty.”
Under Bloomberg, the NYPD was empowered to detain, question and search civilians for weapons and other contraband. Bloomberg insists it made the city safer, while black and Hispanic leaders said it surgically targeted men of color. The courts agreed.
“His stop-and-frisk policy [for police] was a powerful symbol that on balance was negative,” said Liff. Mayor Bill de Blasio, Bloomberg’s successor, “stopped it and crime has gone down. The Daily News, which had supported it, admitted it had been wrong.”
Nevertheless, Ester Fuchs, a political science professor at Columbia University, said Bloomberg has a real chance of capturing the Democratic nomination “because the top-tier presidential candidates are all clustered together and it looks like we will be going into a convention where no one has a commanding lead. Bloomberg has a tremendous opportunity to capture the middle and he can absolutely beat Trump in the swing states and not just the general election.”
Former Democratic Assemblyman Dov Hikind said a lot of Americans are “getting turned off by Trump’s rhetoric” and that Bloomberg “positively can attract support from Republican Jews. In addition to understanding business, he is a guy who gives a lot of his money away and he has said he is going to give it all away.
“In terms of friends who have helped Israel, no one has been like Trump and 90 percent of the people in Israel support him,” added Hikind, who represented a heavily Orthodox district. “But who knows what will happen with Trump?”
Bloomberg has been a strong supporter of Israel and has donated to a number of institutions there, including Hadassah University Medical Center. That would be reassuring to voters who fear the willingness of candidates like Warren and Sanders to criticize the Israeli government.
David Rubin, author of the 2018 book “Trump and the Jews,” said that although Bloomberg is “a successful businessman and a fairly successful mayor, I don’t see any particular Jewish issues in which he stands out. On the other hand, his Republican opponent has tremendous accomplishments when it comes to Israel.”
Rubin said he does not believe Bloomberg will be able to win the Democratic nomination because Democratic voters “have moved clearly towards the left — further left than it has ever been. And Bloomberg, being more of a moderate, would have a hard time gaining traction. For him to gain traction, Biden would have to get out. And I have my doubts whether getting into the field now — and skipping Iowa and New Hampshire — may not be a bit too late for him.”
Sheinkopf said he agreed with Bloomberg’s decision not to compete in the first four primary and caucus states but rather to direct his campaign at Super Tuesday on March 3, when presidential primaries and caucuses will be held in 16 states for approximately 3,769 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Registered Democrats in both Texas and California, the two most populous states, will be among those voting that day.
Bloomberg, in a Washington Post op-ed on Oct. 15, wrote that micromanagement is the “surest path to failure,” and he appears to be letting experts decide whether and when he should enter the race.
“His decision whether to go in will not be based on gut but on skill, analytics and science,” said Gilbert Kahn, a professor of political science at Kean University in Union, N.J. “When he first flirted with the idea, he intimated that if Biden falters, he might enter. There has been a lot of talk of that [lately] and he is concerned that the moderate wing [of the Democratic Party] might not succeed. And the window [to enter the contest] is closing.”