- The Washington Times - Monday, March 2, 2020

The Super Tuesday primaries are shaping up as a day of reckoning for billionaire media mogul Michael Bloomberg, who spent hundreds of millions of his vast fortune on TV ads pushing a message of competence but trails everywhere in the Democratic presidential race.

With Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg dropping out of the race and the Democratic Party establishment congealing behind former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Mr. Bloomberg increasingly threatens to play the role of spoiler.

He got in the race claiming he was the only viable alternative to avowed socialist Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, who has emerged as the front-runner. At best, Mr. Bloomberg now is battling Mr. Biden for second-place across the Super Tuesday map.

Mr. Bloomberg said that finishing in second-place could be good enough if he gets enough delegates to become a dealmaker at a brokered convention, provided no one captures the 1,991 delegates needed to win the nomination outright.

“I’m in it to win it,” Mr. Bloomberg said at a Fox News town hall Monday, adding that a brokered convention is the “most likely scenario.”

That’s a scenario that Mr. Sanders and his army of supporters call a plan by the Democratic Party establishment to rig the nomination contest against him.

“If the rules say you can swap votes and make deals, then you can swap votes and make deals,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “If you don’t like those rules, don’t play.”

His strategy depends on his ability to peel off enough delegates to prevent the other candidates from clinch the nomination before the July Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.

Mr. Bloomberg, a former New York mayor who also ranks as the 14th wealthiest person in the world, spent more than $500 million on ads since his late entry in the race in November. The lion’s share — more than $214 million — went to ads in Super Tuesday states where he makes his debut on presidential ballots.

The deluge of TV and Internet commercials boosted Mr. Bloomberg ahead of many of his rivals and onto the debate stage last month. But it failed to put him ahead of Mr. Sanders or, in most races, Mr. Biden, in the 14 states that vote Tuesday and offer up one-third of the delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

“The real problem that Bloomberg has is that he doesn’t lead anywhere,” said political scientist G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall Poll. “He’s spending a lot of money but he needs a dramatic moment. He has to do something on Super Tuesday to have any possibility.”

The contests Tuesday have effectively narrowed to a four-way race between Mr. Sanders, Mr. Biden, Mr. Bloomberg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The main attraction in most states, however, is the battle between Mr. Sanders and Mr. Biden.

Similar to Mr. Bloomberg, Ms. Warren is not in the mix to win many states (the last poll in her native Massachusetts had she and Mr. Sanders tied) but will pick off delegates from the frontrunners and increase the odds of a contested convention in Milwaukee.

Mr. Bloomberg took a bruising when he first appeared on the debate stage with his rivals in Nevada, including a severe beatdown by Ms. Warren who compared him to President Trump, a fellow New York billionaire.

Mr. Bloomberg recovered in his second debate appearance a few days later in South Carolina.

From the start, his strategy of skipping the first four contests to focus on Super Tuesday was a massive gamble, said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf.

“Nothing went wrong. He was late to the game,” he said. “Is it an extraordinary moment in American politics that this kind of money has been spent with a strategy that is very difficult to effectuate? The answer is yes.”

The limited return on Mr. Bloomberg’s massive investment is most striking in the biggest prizes on Tuesday: California, Texas and North Carolina. Those three states account for 754 of the 1,358 delegates up for grabs Tuesday.

Mr. Bloomberg has spent $78 million on ads in California, while Mr. Biden spent $4,000, according to data compiled by National Public Radio.

He’s running fourth in the polls in California, which boasts a treasure trove of 416 delegates to be divvied up among the winners.

In the Real Clear Politics average of recent California polls, Mr. Sanders dominates with 34.7% of the vote, followed by Mr. Biden at 18%, Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 15.3% and Mr. Bloomberg at 13%.

A similar story plays out in the competition for Texas’ 228 delegates.

Mr. Bloomberg spent more than $26 million — more than 80% of all the campaign ads aired in the Lone Star State — and trails a distant third place in the polls. Mr. Sanders led the field in Texas with 31%, trailed by Mr. Biden at 26% and Mr. Bloomberg at 16%, according to an Emerson College poll conducted last week.

In North Carolina, Mr. Bloomberg bought $16.4 million in TV and radio ads as of last week. By comparison, Mr. Sanders spent $1.2 million in the Tar Heel State, according to data compiled by Advertising Analytics.

Mr. Bloomberg is in third place in North Carolina polls with about 15% of the vote. Mr. Biden leads with 28% and Mr. Sanders is second with 22%, according to the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls. North Carolina has 110 delegates on the line.

The bright spot for Mr. Bloomberg is Virginia, where he has a history predating the presidential race of showering millions of dollars on Democratic state campaigns that helped the party seize control of the legislature last year.

A Monmouth University Poll in mid-February showed Mr. Bloomberg tied with Mr. Sanders for first place at 22%. Other recent polls show Mr. Bloomberg in a tight race for second place with either Mr. Sanders or Mr. Biden.

Alex Swoyer contributed to this report.

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