Campaigns & Elections

Bloomberg drops out of presidential race

The former New York City mayor couldn’t replicate his winning formula nationally.

Bloomberg at a campaign rally in Tennessee days before dropping out of the presidential race.

Bloomberg at a campaign rally in Tennessee days before dropping out of the presidential race. Mike Bloomberg/Flickr

It started in a Brooklyn church in November, where former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg apologized for the harm caused by stop-and-frisk policing. And his unorthodox presidential campaign ended Wednesday after a colossal disappointment on Super Tuesday left him with no viable path to the Democratic Party’s nomination.

“Three months ago, I entered the race for President to defeat Donald Trump,” the former mayor wrote in a statement released Wednesday morning. “Today, I am leaving the race for the same reason: the defeat Donald Trump – because it is clear to me that staying in would make achieving that goal more difficult.”

But Bloomberg wasn’t just focused on beating Trump – he was also hoping to defeat U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and his democratic socialist brand of politics, which had been gaining steam in the early primary states. To both ends, Bloomberg endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination and vowed to work to make him the next president.

And Bloomberg may be uniquely helpful in achieving that goal. As the ninth-richest person in the world, he spent more than a half billion dollars on his own presidential campaign. And he’s said that he would continue spending money till November to defeat Trump, whether or not he was the Democratic nominee.

But of course, Bloomberg’s 2020 presidential campaign was a lesson that money isn’t everything. The Wall Street investor and founder of Bloomberg L.P. was able to spend big and win three terms as mayor of New York City, where he served from 2002 through 2013. And it wasn’t just direct campaign spending on ads and consultants. As Gabe Ponce de León wrote in this week’s City & State cover story, Bloomberg also spent big on philanthropy before and during his mayoral runs, a move meant to bolster his reputation and buy either support or silence from the city’s influencers – and maybe do some good, too. Bloomberg relied heavily on data, and his fortune allowed him to actually use that data, microtargeting New York City voters and convincing many loyal Democrats to vote for him on the Republican Party line.

But Bloomberg couldn’t replicate that strategy on the national stage. New York City was just one media market, with no corner more than a 10-minute helicopter ride away. The country is vast, and by focusing primarily on Super Tuesday, Bloomberg had to be in 14 states at once. In the end, he only won the caucuses in American Samoa – a U.S. territory that he didn’t visit.

Still, Bloomberg will go down in history, at least locally, as the only former New York City mayor to win any presidential primary delegates in modern history. That’s a low bar for success, but one that Bill de Blasio in this cycle, Rudy Giuliani in 2008 and John Lindsay in 1972 failed to reach in their runs for president. In 1904, former New York City Mayor George McClellan Jr. won three delegates at the Democratic National Convention in St. Louis.