Who has more to fear from Bloomberg: The Democrats or Trump?

WASHINGTON — Michael Bloomberg is about to find out if money really can buy you love.

The billionaire former New York City mayor officially entered the presidential race Sunday, pitching himself as the wealthy white knight for a Democratic Party deeply anxious about its other candidates' ability to defeat President Donald Trump.

“I know what it takes to beat Trump, because I already have. And I will do it again,” Bloomberg said in his launch email.

Were it not for his immense wealth, estimated at $55 billion, Bloomberg’s late entry would likely be dismissed as of little significance.

Democratic voters say they already have plenty of options in 2020 and Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who jumped in the race two weeks ago, had to cancel a recent event at Morehouse College in Atlanta after no one showed up.

But rival campaigns are reacting differently to Bloomberg’s entry as they did to Patrick’s or that of billionaire Tom Steyer, who has struggled for relevance despite spending tens of millions of dollars on TV ads in recent months. There's a hint of fear in some of their voices when they privately discuss Bloomberg, even as they argue he has no shot.

If Steyer, financially, was a battleship compared to other candidates’ fishing boats, Bloomberg is an aircraft carrier.

The media mogul and former mayor, who has already made the single largest political advertising purchase in history, is worth some fifty times as much as Steyer.

Bloomberg spent more than $250 million combined on his three mayoral campaigns in New York City and has doled hundreds of millions more on charitable and political causes. Aides say he’ll spend whatever it takes on his latest project, the presidential run.

Some welcome the development as a needed shakeup to the messy status quo of the 2020 primary.

'He is now the only candidate...'

“I’m all for it. I think he will be good for the Democratic field,” Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, who considered running for president in 2020 himself, said in an email to NBC News.

“He is now the only candidate that has actually done something to impact gun violence. He is the only candidate that has done something to deal with reducing health care costs by helping to keep people healthy via sugar associated taxes,” Cuban said, stopping short of an endorsement. “Adding the substance he brings on these issues is a net positive in my opinion.”

Others noted that Bloomberg’s vast wealth would be a potent weapon against Trump, who is building an unprecedented war chest for next year’s election.

“He’s got what it takes and he’s got the resources to take it to Trump,” Steve Benjamin, the popular mayor of Columbia, South Carolina told the AP. “I believe firmly that Mike Bloomberg can win. I think resources are going to matter.”

Michael Bloomberg through the years
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Michael Bloomberg through the years
344913 02: Bloomberg L.P. founder and CEO Michael Bloomberg poses for a portrait November 2, 1998 in the training room at his offices in New York City. (Photo by Chris Casaburi/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2000: Republican mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg samples a slice of life at Francesco's Pizzeria on Third Ave. in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. (Photo by Linda Rosier/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2000: Republican mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg talks to passersby while campaigning at Broadway and W. 225th St. (Photo by David Handschuh/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2001: Republican mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg exchanges high-fives with 7-year-old Matthew DePoalo while campaigning on Ditmars Blvd. in Astoria. (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
388464 18: Michael Bloomberg of Bloomberg News Service hosts a party before attending the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, April 28, 2001 in Washington DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Newsmakers)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: Michael Bloomberg, Republican candidate for New York mayor, speaks to the press in Brooklyn, New York, 26 September 2001. Bloomberg handsomely won the 25 September New York mayoral primary election to be the official Republican party candidate to replace New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on January 1 next year, according to exit polls. AFP PHOTO Doug KANTER (Photo credit should read DOUG KANTER/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 26: Republican mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg meets with the Daily News editorial board. (Photo by Pat Carroll/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg leaves the polling booth at PS 6 in Manhattan, NY. (Photo by Jennifer S. Altman/WireImage)
399131 02: Michael Bloomberg, the108th Mayor of the City of New York, gives his inaugural address January 1, 2002 at City Hall in New York City. (Photo by Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2002: Mayor Michael Bloomberg chats with diners at the International House of Pancakes at 135th St. and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. in Harlem, where he picked up the endorsement of the Rev. Calvin Butts. (Photo by Craig Warga/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (C), and former New York Stock Exchange President William Johnston (R) listens to New York Stock Exchange Chairman Richard Grasso (R) on the bell podium before Bloomberg rang the opening bell to begin trading 02 January, 2002. AFP PHOTO Henny Ray ABRAMS (Photo credit should read HENNY RAY ABRAMS/AFP/Getty Images)
399944 03: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at the swearing in of over 300 probationary firefighters January 22, 2002 at the Fire Academy on Randalls Island in New York City. The new class is the second to enter the academy since the World Trade Center attack, when the department lost 343 firefighters. The probationary firefighters will begin physical training and classroom instruction before being sent out to firehouses around the city., (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 30: Mayor Michael Bloomberg makes his first State of the City address in the City Council chamber at City Hall. (Photo by Linda Rosier/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Mayor Michael Bloomberg cuts the ribbon to begin the opening of fall's Fashion Week in Bryant Park in Manhattan, NY. (Photo by Jennifer S. Altman/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 09: Mayor Michael Bloomberg stands amidst fire officials during funeral of Fire Lt. Kevin Pfeifer at St. Margaret's Church in Middle Village, Queens. Pfeifer, 42, who worked with Engine Co. 33 in lower Manhattan, was killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Bloomberg, attending his first firefighter funeral since taking office last month, eulogized the fallen hero and praised the bravery of all the firefighters who responded to the attacks. (Photo by Mike Albans/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
401921 01: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at the unveiling of a fifty-foot high stainless steel tree by artist Roxy Paine March 5, 2002 in New York City's Central Park. The tree is one of five public artworks on display in Central Park sponsored by the Whitney Museum of American Art. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg(L) and Attorney General John Ashcroft (R) look at memorial banners and posters in front of St. Paul's Chapel 09 April 2002 in New York City, before visiting ground zero at the site of the World Trade Center attacks. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Kathy WILLENS (Photo credit should read KATHY WILLENS/AFP/Getty Images)
403191 02: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (C) and Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta (R) look on as a U.S. flag that once flew over Ground Zero is raised during a ceremony at City Hall Plaza April 1, 2002 in New York City. The flag was immortalized in a photograph by Thomas Franklin of three firefighters raising it amid the rubble of the World Trade Center after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York City. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 28: Mayor Michael Bloomberg addresses the Republican State Convention at the Sheraton New York Hotel on Seventh Ave. (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JUNE 14: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronauts Dominic Gorie (L) and Frank Culbertson (R) present an American flag to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (C) in honor of Flag Day June 14, 2002 in New York City. The flag was found at Ground Zero, the location of the World Trade Center in New York, and was flown into space in December 2001 aboard the NASA Space Shuttle Endeavor. Culbertson was onboard the International Space Station September 11, 2001 when the terrorist attacks occurred in the U.S. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JULY 4: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gets a Nathan's Famous hot dog after Takeru Kobayashi won Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island July 4, 2002 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Kobayashi, who won last year, set a new world record by eating 50 1/2 hot dogs in twelve minutes. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 10: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (2nd R) speaks with an aide while announcing a new emergency notification system at a news conference overlooking Ground Zero on May 10, 2011 in New York City. Bloomberg, who was joined by politicians, federal officials and the heads of mobile phone companies, spoke of the system that will alert what to do in case of emergency to anyone with an 'enabled' mobile device within range of a cell phone tower. Part of a law passed by Congress five years ago, the service is scheduled to be available in New York City and Washington, D.C. by the end of the year and is expected in the rest of the country by mid-2012. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 07: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) speaks at a press conference as construction continues at the World Trade Center site on September 7, 2011 in New York City. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum will feature two reflecting pools on the footprints of the twin towers. The memorial is scheduled to be dedicated on September 11, 2011, the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 02: (L-R) Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel participate in a forum about education in big cities at the Katzen Arts Center on the campus of American University March 2, 2012 in Washington, DC. Calling their municipalities 'city-states,' the mayors suppored the idea of individual school districts being able to compete with states for the $4.35 billion 'Race to the Top' grant program created by President Barack Obama. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (C) rings the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange on the first day of opening since Hurricane Sandy October 31, 2012 in New York City. The storm has claimed several dozen lives in the United States and has caused massive flooding across much of the Atlantic seaboard. U.S. President Barack Obama has declared the situation a 'major disaster' for large areas of the U.S. east coast, including New York City, with widespread power outages and significant flooding in parts of lower Manhattan and elsewhere. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 12: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg holds a large cup as he speaks to the media about the health impacts of sugar at Lucky's restaurant, which voluntarily adopted the large sugary drink ban, March 12, 2013 in New York City. A state judge on Monday blocked Bloomberg's ban on oversized sugary drinks but the Mayor plans to appeal the decision. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 06: New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio speaks with outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg at City Hall on November 6, 2013 in New York City. It was the first meeting between the two since de Blasio's election victory the day before. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 19: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at a press conference with United States Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan (not seen), unveiling a Hurricane Sandy Recovery Report on August 19, 2013 in the Greenpoint neighborhood of the Brooklyn Borough of New York City. The report calls for strengthening the region's electrical grid, reinforcing coastline and protecting gas supplies. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

But others, including several candidates who have been on the stump for months, accused Bloomberg of trying “buy our elections,” as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders put it.

“This election should not be for sale,” Warren told reporters in New Hampshire on Saturday. “We need to build a grassroots movement, that's how democracy is supposed to work.”

Bloomberg has flirted with running for president for years on various party lines.

But his decision to do so now underscores the concerns about Joe Biden— allies said months ago Bloomberg was staying out of the race because he didn’t see a way to beat the former vice president— as well concerns among moderates about Sanders or Warren becoming their standard-bearer against Trump.

But Bloomberg lacks an obvious component of Biden’s biggest political strength: The support of African-American voters. Bloomberg, 77, also lacks the generational appeal of Biden’s leading contender in the moderate lane, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.

Bloomberg has no chance of getting on a debate stage under current Democratic National Committee rules, since he’s said he’ll refuse all donations and the party requires candidates to show broad support from hundreds of thousands of grassroots donors.

The DNC could change its debate qualification rules in the future to accommodate Bloomberg, but Bloomberg allies say he doesn’t need the stage because his resources allow him to reach voters directly.

The businessman has also taken the unusual strategy skipping the early states, like Iowa and New Hampshire, to run a national campaign focused on winning to delegates to next year’s Democratic National Convention. That has some wondering if he’s hoping to win at a potential contested convention when superdelegates— insiders presumably more amenable to his message— would get to vote.

'The chances of a progressive nominee are looking good'

Some on the left argue Bloomberg will actually help Sanders or Warren by serving as a foil and by splitting the votes of moderates.

“The line on the centrist side, with Biden, Buttigieg, Bloomberg, Patrick is a lot longer than the line on the progressive side,” Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., a co-chair of Sanders’ campaign, said in an email. “Show me the field, and I’ll show you who wins. The chances of a progressive nominee are looking good.”

Bloomberg has used his vast wealth to nearly single-handedly revitalize the gun control movement, pumping money into groups like Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, which have helped turn the tide on gun politics after decades of dominance by the National Rifle Association.

He has also funded major efforts to fight climate change and has been a fixture at United Nations climate talks, organizing a coalition of mayors of the world’s largest cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

He’s also funded campaigns to get cities to hike taxes on sugary drinks, cigarettes, and trans fats— efforts that have earned him praise from public health advocates, but also scorn and mockery from others as a “stereotypically laughable example of a liberal nanny state,” as Time magazine once put it.

That largesse has earned him plenty of goodwill among liberals. But many say Bloomberg is out-of-step today’s Democratic Party even beyond its smash-the-billionaires left flank.

Bloomberg’s past comments about women, for instance, may be viewed less favorably in the wake of the #MeToo movement. And his former embrace of Stop and Frisk policing, for which he recently apologized, is sure to haunt him in the Black Lives Matter era.

Then there’s questions about his partisanship, or lack thereof. While Bloomberg has been a Democrat for most of his life, he first for mayor ran as a Republican with the critical backing Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor who is now Trump’s personal lawyer at the center of the Ukraine scandal.

In fact, Bloomberg has never won an election as a Democrat, and only re-registered with the party last year when he gave $100 million to help Democrats flip the House.

When asked in 2011 about Trump’s leadership of the birther movement against then-President Barack Obama, Bloomberg defended Obama but added that, “I’m a friend of Donald Trump’s, he’s a New York icon.”

Simon Rosenberg, the founder of the centrist New Democrat Network and New Policy Institute, said it’s “way too early to write off” Bloomberg at a time when voters are scared and looking for someone serious and competent to lead them.

Bloomberg is a capable politician, Rosenberg noted, beating both parties to win the mayoralty of the country’s largest city and remaining popular throughout his 12 years in office. But Bloomberg's reputation in the Big Apple hasn't translated to the national stage. In a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, less than half of respondents said they were familiar with him.

But his successor and longtime critic, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who waged his own ill-fated presidential campaign earlier this year, said Bloomberg’s image as a data-driven management wiz will not hold up to scrutiny.

“I think he's going to have a whole lot of explaining to do. He is claiming to be a great unifier and great builder, but I can tell you, I have spent six years trying to fix what he broke,” de Blasio said in a phone interview.

He noted Bloomberg opposed raising the minimum wage and vetoed a paid sick leave bill, and said Bloomberg’s response to the Great Recession was to give Goldman Sachs a pep talk, instead of holding them accountable.

“The mythology will not last long,” de Blasio said.

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