- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer reversed himself Tuesday and jumped into the crowded race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, sidelining his quest to oust President Trump through impeachment and instead betting he can beat Mr. Trump at the ballot box.

Mr. Steyer’s entry into the race gives Democrats their own outspoken, deep-pocketed outsider harshly critical of the way politics is practiced — a liberal mirror image of Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign.

The 62-year-old hedge fund manager is reportedly poised to spend at least $100 million of his estimated $1.6 billion fortune on the race after having dumped an estimated $120 million into the 2018 midterm congressional elections, making him the Democrats’ biggest financial angel of all time.

Yet he cast his campaign Tuesday as an effort to combat big-money influence in Washington.

“Americans are deeply disappointed and hurt by the way they’re treated by what they think is the power elite in Washington, D.C., and that goes across party lines and it goes across geography,” the new candidate said in a video announcing his decision. “We’ve got to take the corporate control out of our politics.”

His campaign also indicated that he will continue his focus on climate change, a long-running interest.

It’s not clear what policy space Mr. Steyer will carve out in the overcrowded Democratic primary field. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is focusing his campaign on climate change, and a host of candidates, including Sens. Bernard Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are driving the corporate corruption message.

Dan Callahan, a top Democratic Party official in Buchanan County, Iowa, said he was surprised to see Mr. Steyer jump into the race.

“It doesn’t seem like his message is terribly different than some of the other ones,” he said. “Warren’s got 60 staffers in Iowa, a couple of the other people have 40 or 50. It’s going to be pretty hard to get a campaign for Iowa, so [the] strategy obviously is going to be to survive Iowa and move on.”

Mr. Steyer does bring one major advantage, though. While others are begging donors for money, he has already booked more than $1 million in TV ad space in the early presidential states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, according to the tracking firm Advertising Analytics.

“That’s the thing that makes him different than any other candidate in the race at the moment, is that he’s able to spend that amount of money right away,” said Neil Sroka, a spokesman for the liberal group Democracy for America.

Mr. Sanders on Wednesday said he likes Mr. Steyer personally but that people are sick and tired of big money in politics.

“I am a bit tired seeing billionaires trying to buy political power,” the senator from Vermont said on MSNBC. “I like Tom. He is a good guy. He’s a friend of mine. But I’m not a great fan of billionaires getting involved in the political process.”

Business career

Seeking to blunt such criticisms, Mr. Steyer highlighted the fact that he and his wife have pledged to give away half of their wealth to charitable causes.

“If this is a banana republic with a few very, very rich people and everybody else living in misery, that’s a failure,” he said.

Mr. Steyer made his fortune at investment firm Farallon Capital Management and announced he was stepping away in 2012. In 2013, he launched NextGen Climate, a nonprofit advocacy group for climate change. The group has since rebranded as NextGen America.

Despite his focus on climate change, Mr. Steyer’s former firm invested in the fossil fuel companies that far-left activists want to run out of business.

Mr. Steyer said in 2013 that one of the reasons he stepped away was that he “no longer felt comfortable being at a firm that was invested in every single sector of the global economy, including tar sands and oil.”

In 2016, his wealth earned him favored status with the Hillary Clinton campaign, according to hacked emails from campaign chairman John Podesta that were posted by WikiLeaks. The Clinton campaign debated how to have Mr. Steyer raise money personally even while running NextGen, which was operating as an independent expenditure group.

Mr. Steyer was pondering a presidential bid last year but said in January that he wouldn’t take the plunge. He said he wanted to focus on impeaching Mr. Trump and ran a series of commercials to personally argue the case.

Yet impeachment talk was nowhere to be found Tuesday.

Mr. Steyer’s campaign did not respond to questions about why he ultimately decided to reverse course and get into the 2020 race.

His first challenge will be to convince the party’s energetic left-wing base why he is a better choice than Mr. Sanders, Ms. Warren or Mr. Inslee.

His late entry is notable, said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

“The decision to get in this late means a candidate must look at the entire diverse field and think, ‘I alone can win this,’” said Mr. Green, whose group has endorsed Ms. Warren. “Especially for a rich white male, this decision should be gut-checked in a major way.”

Mr. Steyer is unlikely to make the stage for the second Democratic primary debate later this month and will need to attract support from at least 130,000 individual donors to qualify for the next one in September.

“That’s going to be the biggest challenge for him, is that folks have been running for six months,” Mr. Sroka said. “You’ve got a number of grassroots powerhouses in the race, and just getting the [funding] total — even with the money he’s going to bring to the race — is certainly going to be a challenge.”

Last year, before he announced his decision to forgo a bid, he polled at 0% in a national CNN survey and a CNN-Des Moines Register poll in Iowa. FiveThirtyEight, a prognostication outfit, said it’s not rating Mr. Steyer as a major candidate.

John Couvillon, a Louisiana-based pollster, said the best comparison for Mr. Steyer is not Mr. Trump, but rather former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, another billionaire who has poured tens of millions of dollars into pet issues such as gun control and who pondered a presidential run but ultimately decided against it.

“In this case, Tom Steyer did make the jump,” Mr. Couvillon said. “He’s always wanted to influence politics like Michael Bloomberg, except now he feels there’s an opportunity.”

Where Mr. Trump tapped a populist sentiment and bucked the Republican Party establishment, Mr. Steyer hews closely to traditionally liberal causes and ideals.

“The question in my mind is, with a lot of candidates in the race, what Steyer is going to bring to the table that’s not already being brought to the table,” Mr. Couvillon said.

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