It took less than 24 hours before 2020 turned into a low-key B fest.
Buzz about Bloomberg and Biden, that is.
After news broke in The New York Times that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was expected to file the paperwork required to get on the Democratic primary ballot in Alabama on Friday, some of former Vice President Joe Biden’s allies were subtly grumbling, with various degrees of laughter and annoyance, about how this could shake up the state of the race.
Bloomberg, a 77-year-old billionaire philanthropist, is the “most impactful American not holding major political office,” according to former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a top Biden surrogate. He’s also a “very pragmatic guy,” a “formidable candidate,” and would make a “fine, fine president,” Rendell told The Daily Beast.
But if there’s one thing he’s not, it’s naive.
“He knows his path to the nomination would have to go through Joe Biden,” Rendell said. “And that means Joe Biden has to stumble a bit.”
Biden’s allies overwhelmingly dismiss a world in which that would ever happen—where the former vice president slips so far in polling and fundraising that Bloomberg will have to save the day for Democrats. And the former vice president himself does not seem worried, telling reporters the ex-mayor is “welcome” to join the crowded primary.
"With regard to Michael Bloomberg, I welcome him in the race," Biden said on Friday during a trip to New Hampshire to file for the primary. "Michael is a solid guy, and let's see where it goes. I have no, no problem with him getting into the race."
But several Democrats who spoke to The Daily Beast expressed annoyance about adding another candidate into an already crowded field, especially one who is worth $52 billion and has similar moderate positioning.
Sometimes the grumbling was veiled by humor.
“Wasn’t Rudy Guiliani mayor of New York? And he didn’t run for president?” Terry Shumaker, a top Biden endorser who co-chaired former President Bill Clinton's New Hampshire campaign, quipped. “How did that work out?”
Other times it was more overt.
“Testosterone is a very poisonous drug,” Democratic strategist Celinda Lake, who is working with Biden’s campaign on polling, said bluntly. “Democratic primaries are 59 percent female and this kind of candidacy is not the way to their hearts.”
In addressing the reports, Bloomberg’s political adviser Howard Wolfson said that the former mayor “is increasingly concerned that the current field of candidates is not well positioned” to ensure that President Donald Trump is defeated in 2020.
“Based on his record of accomplishment, leadership and his ability to bring people together to drive change, Mike would be able to take the fight to Trump and win,” he wrote on Twitter.
Wolfson’s wording—“take the fight to Trump and win”--was perceived by some as a slight against Biden, whose campaign has mounted an “electability” argument, often repeating the line that the that the 76-year-old former vice president will beat Trump “like a drum” in the general election.
“The election is so important that whoever thinks they can beat Donald Trump and restore the country to normalcy is welcome,” Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), a top Biden surrogate and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, told The Daily Beast. “However,” he paused, “it doesn’t change my opinion that Joe Biden is best positioned to do that.”
Bloomberg would enter the race with a considerable money advantage. Worth over $50 billion, he could self-fund a primary bid built for the long haul. Biden’s campaign reported approximately $15 million in the third fundraising quarter of the year and regularly hosts fundraisers, which other Democratic rivals have sworn off. His campaign is also now receiving the financial assistance of a super PAC.
More broadly, a Bloomberg bid has the potential to throw off the current rhythm of the primary, including the calculations of some Democrats in early states, which already started to spill into public view by Friday morning. In a rare move, the chairmen from both the Iowa and New Hampshire Democratic parties offered a joint statement on the news.
"We are excited that this Democratic presidential nomination contest has so many qualified candidates," New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley and Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price wrote, adding that "we are certain that Granite Staters, Iowans, and other early state voters are eager to ask Michael Bloomberg about his plans to move our states and our country forward. We hope that they will have that opportunity."
Biden has started lagging in both early voting contests. In Iowa, he has slipped in some surveys behind Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and more recently, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who represents a similar moderate ideology and has invested significant resources there. In the latest RealClearPolitics voting average in the first caucus state, Biden, who earned 15.5 percent, comes in at fourth place, behind Warren at 21.8 percent, Buttigieg at 17.5 percent, and Sanders at 15.8 percent.
But previous polling indicates an even steeper climb ahead for Bloomberg. In February, Bloomberg was at 4 percent in a Monmouth University poll, compared to Biden, who was at 29 percent. The next month, he said he would not run for president. And so far, Biden’s support nationally has remained mostly unchanged. In the current RCP national polling average, he is at 28.3 percent.
In addition, a NBC/WSJ poll from Sunday showed 85 percent of Democratic primary voters were either “very” or “fairly” satisfied with the current field.
In New Hampshire on Friday, Biden made a passing reference to polls. “In terms of he’s running because of me, the last polls I looked at, I’m pretty far ahead,” Biden told reporters. “If I’m not mistaken, I’m doing pretty well both relative to Trump and relative to all the people running in the Democratic primary."
He has fallen behind Warren and Sanders in the Granite State, who enjoy neighboring proximity, in some surveys, but still hovers around second place in the polling aggregate there.
“That would have been a clear message to Biden supporters,” Rendell said, referencing if Bloomberg had already filed paperwork for the New Hampshire primary.
But with a Nov. 15 deadline, there’s still time.
“The mayor could be a candidate,” Rendell said. “And if he is, he’s a formidable candidate.”