With Biden on the rise, Bloomberg's campaign faces toughest test yet

MANASSAS, Va. — It's finally time for Mike Bloomberg to face the voters.

Bloomberg has spent lavishly on the race — more than $500 million to boost his upstart campaign. He bypassed the first four early-voting states and has focused his efforts on the more than dozen states and territories voting on Super Tuesday, where roughly one-third of the total pledged delegates are on the line.

Bloomberg will spend Super Tuesday on a tour of Florida, holding a handful of events in the crucial state ahead of its primary later this month. He will also visit Michigan and Pennsylvania later this week before returning to the Sunshine State.

Bolstered by an advertising campaign unprecedented in a presidential primary and large-scale ground operations in places like California, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia, he surged in polling before a pair of shaky debate performances appeared to stunt his growth.

But as the date has arrived for Bloomberg to find out what his standing really is in the Democratic primary, his candidacy has met its toughest challenge yet — Joe Biden's sudden consolidation of the Democratic primary field's not Bernie Sanders segment. Just three days ago, Biden scored a resounding victory in South Carolina. By Monday, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg were out of the race and endorsing Biden, pushing their supporters to back him, too.

Just a few weeks ago, Bloomberg's campaign was pushing for everyone to quickly drop out of the race so he could take on Sanders. Now, Bloomberg, who entered the contest in part because Biden had shown some weaknesses late last year, is faced with the potential of serving as a spoiler who tamps down on Biden's ability to win the Democratic nomination.

Speaking in Virginia on Monday, Bloomberg made clear he doesn't see himself as such.

"I've won three elections so far," Bloomberg said at a canvass kickoff in Manassas, referring to his victories in New York City mayoral races. "I don't plan to start losing now."

One Democratic aide who spoke with NBC News on Monday said "pressure is mounting" on Bloomberg from other Democratic moderates who wanted him to stand down on Super Tuesday, describing the Bloomberg campaign as fielding a lot of "incoming" from Democrats. But two senior Bloomberg campaign officials said he isn't going to leave the race before Super Tuesday results come in.

And his campaign also sees an upside to Klobuchar and Buttigieg dropping out, even if they have backed Biden. Should a small number of their supporters move over to Bloomberg's camp, the former New York City mayor could get over the 15 percent threshold needed to collect delegates in states where he may have otherwise fallen short.

Image; Mike Bloomberg
Image; Mike Bloomberg

AP

The billionaire media mogul will seemingly have to carve a larger chunk of support away from Biden to appear viable for the nomination in the months to come.

Both candidates delivered speeches before the Brown Chapel AME church in Selma, Alabama, on Sunday. Biden, seated at the pulpit besides figures like the Rev. Al Sharpton and 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, was greeted with loud cheers and clapping. On the other hand, Bloomberg, seated in the first pew of the congregation, watched as a handful of churchgoers turned their back on him during his speech.

Bloomberg received a much different greeting on Monday at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee gathering in Washington, D.C., where he was met with a standing ovation. He was the only Democratic candidate to address the group in person, though Biden and Klobuchar provided taped speeches.

Concluding his Virginia swing Monday, Bloomberg said at a Fox News town hall he's open to winning the nomination through a contested convention.

"The most likely scenario for the Democratic Party is that nobody has a majority, and then it goes to a convention, where there's horse-trading, and everybody decides to compromise on — it doesn't even have to be one of the two leading candidates," he said. "It could be somebody that had only a small number of delegates."

The event descended into chaos when Bloomberg was interrupted by a group of protesters blasting him for his overseeing of "stop-and-frisk" policing in New York City and his company's use of nondisclosure agreements. Soon after, other members in the audience began arguing over Bloomberg's positions on gun control and abortion rights.

His campaign used this moment to highlight his centrist credentials.

"He's a moderate," a campaign aide told reporters, "protested by the left and the right."

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