CHARLOTTE, North Carolina—Mike Bloomberg couldn’t be at the drag show held in his honor, but his money managed to make the trip.
“Let’s make America fabulous again y’all!” host Buff Faye called out to the basement’s brunch crowd before Miley Cyrus’ voice crashed through the speakers and a room full of people who ate for free and feted the list of dancing , lip-syncing performers with the kind of small dollar tips and looks of admiration that would’ve been the envy of many of the long departed 2020 hopefuls.
The drag events are a regular occurrence at Charlotte’s Dilworth Neighborhood Grille, which a Bloomberg campaign staffer described as iconic in the local LGBT community. Enthusiastic support and sponsorship from a presidential candidate’s campaign was something new.
"I know he probably has many vice presidential candidates to choose from, but there is a drag queen I know that would be interested in being vice president," Faye joked to the crowd.
A brunch spread of chicken, mac and cheese, french toast, sausage and eggs came courtesy of the billionaire's campaign alongside a full set list of performers, all in an effort to call on the crowd of more than 100 people to get out and vote on Super Tuesday.
This was a mimosa, Bloody Mary and Michelob Ultra kind of morning, cash bar chasers to pair with the free food and ample swag Bloomberg’s team swept the room with. The former New York mayor wouldn’t mind being president, and he’s willing to show voters some of the the spoils of limitless wealth first, from a typical voting canvass to a Sunday brunch where his campaigns boasts about having “fabulous drag queens WERQIN it for democracy!”
Bloomberg appeared in a pair of brief canned video appearances that backlit the room. Good vibes towards him rippled throughout. A message in the back would occasionally flash on the screen, reminding the room of the billionaire's support for trans rights and equal treatment of LGBTQ+ Americans.
"I'm sorry I can't be there in person," Bloomberg said robotically during the first pre-recorded message. "You look like such a great group."
Bloomberg’s hundreds of millions in spending means voters often get pummeled with television ads. It also means the campaign has the chance to swing for the fences on events that have the kind of flair rarely seen at this stage of a presidential campaign.
"In terms of being a part of the LGBT community, I think that's awesome. He's showing that he's one of us, he's an ally. Love it," said Murphy Wildeman, a 24-year-old supporter of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who made it to the brunch early.
But Bloomberg still gave him a reason to pause and feel conflicted.
"In terms of a Democrat, I don't know how I feel about candidates, specifically Bloomberg, spending his mass wealth just to essentially buy his electorate or buy his supporters," Wildeman said.
Between traditional Get Out The Vote and phone banking meet-ups, Bloomberg’s campaign schedule is studded with the decidedly unconventional events. From the pandering “¡Ganamos con Mike! Pre-Election Day Fiesta” in San Antonio, “Women Wine and Cheese” in the tony suburb of Bloomington, MI, to the puzzling, “McDonald's Monday with Mike for PA!,” an interesting choice for the former mayor who pioneered trans fat and soda bans.
Mixed in with the usual discussions on climate change, gun safety and abortion are events that are tailored to mix politics with every day hobbies.
For dog lovers there’s Bloomberg Barkathon in Philadelphia; there are “quizzos” elsewhere in Pennsylvania for people who like trivia; a meetup for people who speak French in Brooklyn, New York; and a kick off in Columbus, Ohio, called “Grilling 4 Mike.”
The events have the dual purpose of attracting people with free food and sometimes, like in Charlotte, entertainment and getting them in front of his message—even if it’s on a TV screen behind a drag queen.
"Mike Bloomberg 2020 is committed to engaging with voters wherever they are—at their doors, on the phone, or at a drag brunch on Sunday,” Galia Slayen, Bloomberg’s national traveling press secretary, told The Daily Beast. “This past weekend, our campaign hosted more than 2,400 events around the country where our staff, volunteers and more than 75 surrogates talked with voters about Mike's record of taking on tough fights and why he is the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump,” she said.
Slayen went on to say that “these events allow us to engage with voters about the issues that matter most to them and their communities, from gun violence prevention and climate change to women's health, LGBTQ equality, and more.”
A microcosm of the hit-or-miss nature of a Bloomberg event was on full display later in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday where mostly only a celebrity surrogate showed up.
Advertised as a “college tailgate” in the heart of the University of Virginia’s main street, an organizer told The Daily Beast plenty of students had swung by since noon to check out the red white and blue truck, which instructed passersby to “Text TAILGATE to 80510”. But by mid-afternoon, there was no sign of any interest from students who may have showed up earlier. In fact, with the truck parked in plain sight, students seemed to take considerably more interest in a common attraction, a corner Starbucks, which was completely packed.
“Stop by the Mike Bloomberg 2020 truck to learn about our platform and learn about the importance of voting!” a description of the event reads on Bloomberg’s campaign website. “We will have cool swag and great food for you to enjoy!”
At one point, two women affiliated with Bloomberg’s campaign seemed utterly surprised that one of their top celebrity surrogates, Academy Award-winning actor Michael Douglas, casually showed up when no one else was there.
Wearing a navy blue baseball cap and gray blazer with a “Mike Bloomberg 2020” button affixed to the lapel, Douglas, surprisingly, hardly stood out on University Avenue. Guarded by just a few campaign staffers, including a longtime aide of the billionaire Democrat, he waited in line patiently at a nearby restaurant without much fuss over him from patrons at all.
After ordering, through Bloomberg's aide, a pastrami on an onion bagel with mustard, the actor was gone in a flash, darting off to an event where he was stumping for the former mayor in another town. An organizer declined to make Douglas available for a question, but simply noted he’s been talking about why he “likes Mike.”
At the Charlotte brunch the following day, there was singing, dancing, and a slightly confused toddler watching with their family from the middle of the room. The Star Spangled Banner intro gave way to Beyoncé songs and plenty of ‘we’ve been drinking before noon’ affection from the crowd.
A Mike Bloomberg 2020 fan became one queen’s air conditioner of choice. President Donald Trump’s voice and visage appeared on occasion as an opportunity to skewer his past comments and character.
Personally, Faye said after the event they hadn't made a decision on who they planned to support in Tuesday's primary.
"Bloomberg's campaign basically paid for 100 seats and said here, give these away," Faye said. "And I thought, well that's really historic... I think it shows that Bloomberg is committed to do whatever it takes to win."
Bloomberg’s financial 2020 swarm can cause some discomfort and pained looks from voters. Spending even a small fraction of it wooing the community in this way helped make that a little more palpable to some. It was corporate outsourcing in the kindest sense, the New Yorker’s way of saying, I’m not great at this kind of thing, but here are some people who are.
Others were still concerned despite the flashiness of Bloomberg’s campaign that his November entrance to the race wasn’t a winning approach.
"Coming to the race late is not a winning strategy," said Brent Maher, a 34-year-old open to voting for Bloomberg.
The food gone and the queens uncrowned, several left the restaurant's basement with a bevy of Bloomberg swag, hats and T-shirts, koozies, wristbands, signs and water bottles filling their arms.
“Not all for me,” said 66-year-old Glenda McDorman, a Bloomberg supporter. She planned to spread it around.
A pair of women soon followed, raving about the event as they left. The brunch became an uplifting moment during a time of political divisiveness, for 70-year-old Bloomberg supporter Betty Roseman.
"You felt like it was four years ago, before we had Darth Vader," she said.