New York City

Bloomberg enters Democratic primary

An FEC filing shows that the former New York City mayor is running for president.

Michael Bloomberg at the 2019 Al Smith dinner

Michael Bloomberg at the 2019 Al Smith dinner Mary Altaffer/AP/Shutterstock

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has officially filed to run for president, after weeks of renewed rumors of an imminent entrance into the Democratic Party primary.

While he has not yet made a public announcement of his intention to run, paperwork filed on Nov. 21 with the Federal Election Commission shows that he is entering the crowded Democratic Party primary field. He has several advantages as a candidate, but plenty of baggage from his past experiences as a billionaire businessman and three-term mayor of the nation’s largest city. His personal wealth will allow him to build a campaign infrastructure relatively quickly, but Bloomberg has just a little over two months before voting begins to prove that he can be a viable candidate for the nomination – despite his past as a Republican and political independent. 

Bloomberg recently tried to smooth his entrance into the Democratic primary by expressing regret for his role as mayor in stop-and-frisk. A key surrogate also suggested that he will express contrition for his history of making sexist remarks about women. The perceived weakness of former Vice President Joe Biden was a key factor in convincing Bloomberg – as well as former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick – to enter the race in order to keep progressive candidates like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders from winning. However, Biden has retained support among African American voters, further complicating Bloomberg’s path to the nomination.

Unlike some candidates in the field, Bloomberg already has significant name recognition – but time is working against him. He has already signalled that he will skip early voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, because of the limited time he has to compete in those states. That means he will likely wait until Super Tuesday on March 3, when more than a dozen states are voting, to make a splash in voting. Bloomberg has already filed to be on the ballots in several states voting that day, including Texas, Arkansas and Alabama. If he can not show by early March that he can compete, then his campaign will likely struggle to make a case that he really has a chance.

Self-financing a presidential campaign is a luxury that most candidates can only dream of, but that does not mean that Bloomberg will not have to face the possibility of begging potential donors. In order to qualify for the Dec. 19 Democratic debate in California, Bloomberg will need 200,000 individual contributors. He will also need to receive at least 4% in four national or early-state polls. Given his reluctance to campaign in early states, it is likely he will seek to achieve the target number in national polling. 

If Bloomberg is not able to make it to the debate stage in December, he could still spend heavily on television, radio and internet advertising to raise his profile among primary voters in the coming months. The rise of South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg in recent polling in Iowa and New Hampshire suggests that even if Bloomberg can carry his campaign through likely defeats in the first voting states, other rivals for the center lane of the primary could remain – especially if Biden wins the South Carolina primary, African American voters makes up a sizeable chunk of the Democratic electorate. 

While Bloomberg will likely make it to Super Tuesday on his wealth alone, he could nonetheless struggle to stand out. Bloomberg is well-known to be a data-driven man. What sort of calculation is he making that shows a path to victory at a time when Democrats are moving further to the left? For the famously shrewd mayor, it’s big bet with an unusually high risk of failure.