Michael Bloomberg has all the money. But he may not have the math.
Just eight weeks out from Super Tuesday, the richest trove of delegates on the primary calendar, the billionaire Democrat is not on track to pick up a single one—despite dropping gobs of cash and saturating the airwaves—internal polling data shared exclusively with The Daily Beast from a rival presidential campaign reveals.
The Democratic National Committee’s primary rules stipulate that a candidate must win 15 percent of the vote statewide or 15 percent by any congressional district in order to collect any delegates. Internal models do not show Bloomberg above 10 percent in any of the first four early voting states—Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina, where he is intentionally ceding by bypassing campaigning there–or any district in the 15 delegate-rich states set to vote on March 3.
“Based on polling I’ve seen, both public and private, Bloomberg isn’t on track to pick up a single delegate on the Super Tuesday states, even places he’s got endorsements,” one unattached top strategist familiar with the delegate process told The Daily Beast. “Not nearly enough to get to 15 percent right now.”
The internal models are particularly problematic given that Bloomberg’s unconventional primary strategy rests on a strong Super Tuesday showing. Having decided to opt out of competing in the first four states—a tactic none of his rivals have used—his campaign is strategizing around the March 3 event’s potential to kick off a wave of successes that will ultimately translate into a win for the Democratic nomination. Flooding the airwaves with ads and investing heavily in staffers, including top operatives in key states, have factored largely into the campaign's calculus for winning large amounts of the delegates up for grabs on that day.
On the first Tuesday in March, California and Texas, the most populous states in the country, will hold their primaries, in which over a third of the population is expected to vote. California, where three candidates—former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)—are neck and neck, will award the day’s top haul of nearly 500 delegates.
Internal polling shared with The Daily Beast shows those three candidates hitting the threshold in many of the Golden State’s 53 districts. Biden qualifies for all of them, while Sanders qualifies for 52 and Warren for 34. Bloomberg, who has spent hundreds of millions of dollars since launching his campaign in November, currently does not qualify for a single district, according to internal modeling.
“It’s hard for me to take that seriously,” a source in Bloomberg-world told The Daily Beast when briefed on the data.
Dave Jacobson, a Democratic media consultant based in Los Angeles, said Bloomberg is building an unprecedented state apparatus, hiring top political hands like Chris Myers, the former executive director of the state’s Democratic Party. “He’s got a lot of high-profile people who he’s brought into the fold,” he said. “It’s unclear what kind of impact that will have.”
Still, Jacobson and multiple other unaffiliated strategists pointed to the momentum boost of the earlier states having a potentially disproportionate impact on how California Democrats will vote, with perceived electability playing a part of that.
“You’re going to have the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, and I think the dynamics and results of those early states will do more to inform who is going to be successful in California than anything else,” he said.
In Minnesota, another Super Tuesday state, two candidates currently qualify for all of the state’s eight districts: Biden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who enjoys a home state advantage there. In addition, using the same metrics, Sanders and Warren each currently qualify for half of the total districts, at four. Sanders handily won the caucus in 2016, sweeping the state with 62 percent over Hillary Clinton’s 38 percent of the vote.
Bloomberg’s current standing there also remains tenuous: zero qualified districts to date, the data shows.
“It doesn’t seem like he’s going to rack up the delegates he needs,” Ken Martin, Minnesota’s Democratic state party chairman and a member of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, which is responsible for delegate regulations, told The Daily Beast when presented with a summary of the findings.
Martin, a longtime veteran of Minnesota politics, and other Democrats—including polling experts and top campaign operatives interviewed—argue there’s significant risk to the strategy of skipping the four early states precisely because of the potential impact it could have on Super Tuesday. In addition to getting a momentum and media boost after Iowa and New Hampshire, the earlier contests serve as a way to try out, and potentially tweak, an effective strategy before the electorally massive March date.
“It’s interesting that Bloomberg has forgone all four early states,” Martin said. “It’s not about the delegate count out of [those states]. It’s not just the momentum and media attention, it’s test-driving your organization before you get to Super Tuesday. I’m surprised he didn’t want to test where the holes are.”
Bloomberg’s campaign, in a flex of organizational muscle, released figures indicating that they have more than 500 staff on the ground in over 30 states. Asked for comment on this story, a campaign spokeswoman said: “Every recent public poll shows major growth over the last six weeks since Mike got in the race.”
The spokeswoman went on to downplay the polling as a mere smear against an opponent. “We are well on our way, and when a rival campaign is peddling a story about us not getting delegates in states we declined to get on the ballot in, it says a lot more about them than it does about us."
The Bloomberg campaign did not comment on specific Super Tuesday states or provide supplementary data.
Other Democratic insiders are less convinced the efforts will amount to a massive delegate haul.
“He’s trying to do what no other candidate has ever succeeded in doing. Skip four early states, take a pass on the debates, do almost no retail politics, and win solely through advertising,” Matt Bennett, co-founder of the centrist think tank Third Way, told The Daily Beast. “Also, his theory is based on other moderate candidates struggling, but that’s not happening. There are limits to what money can do.”
Just over 20 days before voting commences in Iowa, the Democratic race remains fluid. Look no further than the latest Des Moines Register poll released on Friday night: Sanders narrowly tops the pack at 20 percent, inching up 5 points since the last survey by the paper was released in early November. Still, due to the recent polling scarcity among the quartet of early contests, including Iowa, the broader state of play is hazy, with several candidates standing within striking distance of each other for the #1 spot. One rival campaign source noted that the modeling does not take momentum into account, which could give some candidates a hypothetical boost. If former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has kept pace with Sanders and Biden in the first two nominating contests, but declined in the Des Moines Register poll to 16 percent from 25 percent, outperforms expectations, he may start to qualify in more districts.
Still, the same potential boost is unlikely to apply to Bloomberg, after deliberately skipping the retail politics courting process and failing to qualify for early state ballots.
A bright spot for the 77-year-old former Republican mayor, however, could come much later in the calendar, when internal predictive models show him hypothetically amassing 54 delegates, 50 of which are projected to come from his home state, set to vote on April 28. The remaining four would potentially be allocated during New Jersey’s primary in early June.
Still, the later the date, the tougher road ahead, multiple strategists, party officials, and data experts said. “The end of the contest is really about the math,” the source familiar with delegate calculations said.
“Bloomberg’s going to face an uphill battle in getting delegates,” Josh Putman, a political scientist specializing in delegate selection rules, told The Daily Beast. “Without even considering those numbers, I would say Bloomberg is going to face uphill obstacles.”
Putnam pointed to what he views as a relatively low return on investment so far for the amount of money the former mayor has spent. Since launching his bid in late November, Bloomberg has already spent over $200 million on campaign ads. On Friday, NBC News reported that his campaign's apparatus will extend through the general election if he loses the nomination, reshifting their efforts at that point to defeating President Donald Trump.
“What he’s spent so far hasn’t netted him that much,” he said. “It’s one thing to spend millions of dollars and get 5 percent of the vote. That’s not going to get you to 15 percent, or any delegates.”