A key question looms as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg weighs his options in 2020: whether a centrist and a billionaire Democrat has room in a party that has veered sharply to the left.
Bloomberg, 76, has been an outspoken critic of President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE and has touted his long record on advocating for gun control and combating climate change, both issues that could win over base voters.
But those same voters might be turned off by his hard-charging criticism of progressive policies such as “Medicare for all,” a wealth tax and free college tuition.
Still, some Democrats see a narrow, but viable path for a candidate who campaigns on being pragmatic at a time of sharp political divisions, though it could grow a bit more complicated if former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE decides to run for the White House.
“He’s going to bring a lot to the table for progressive voters. But he’s going to have to confront those vulnerabilities,” said a national Democratic strategist, adding that Bloomberg is going to have to address parts of his record including his previous party affiliation. “It’s a narrow path, but the reality is all these folks have a narrow path.”
Bloomberg previously considered running for president as an independent in 2016 and played a key role in the 2018 midterm elections, spending upwards of $100 million to help Democrats take back the House for the first time since 2010.
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Some Democratic strategists argue he shouldn’t be boxed in as a centrist candidate given his work and money spent to elevate issues like gun control.
He founded super PAC Independence USA and Everytown for Gun Safety, which were active in boosting Democrats last year.
And as a climate change advocate, Bloomberg said during a recent swing through early primary state New Hampshire that he’ll soon reveal his ideas for the Green New Deal, which has gotten some traction among progressives in Congress.
But Bloomberg has long pushed for pragmatism, saying those proposals need to be “bold” but also “achievable,” while expressing exasperation about “things that are pie in the sky.”
The former New York City mayor has also stood out as a critic of single-payer health care and free college tuition as lofty and costly proposals that he believes are unattainable.
Those criticisms stand in stark contrast to a majority of the current 2020 Democratic field, with candidates rushing to embrace those ideas and pushing them to the forefront of the party’s debate.
The Democratic field has ballooned in recent weeks as more candidates seek to frame themselves as progressives.
Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (D-Calif.), who’s gotten some momentum since launching her presidential campaign, drew headlines when she said she’d support eliminating private health insurance.
She’s a co-sponsor on Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE’s (I-Vt.) Medicare for All legislation, which would implement a government-run single-payer system and get rid of private insurance.
Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (D-N.J.), another 2020 contender, is also a co-sponsor of Sanders’s single-payer legislation but said he didn’t support doing away with private insurance companies.
Bloomberg, by contrast, has dismissed the Medicare for all health care proposal as too expensive.
“You can have Medicare for all for people who are uncovered,” Bloomberg told reporters at a recent event in New York. “But … to replace the entire private system where companies provide health care for their employees would bankrupt us for a very long time.”
Bloomberg also faces other vulnerabilities. He has re-registered as a Democrat after being registered as a Republican and most recently as an independent.
His more than decade-long tenure as New York City mayor would also be under a microscope and he’s already been scrutinized for stop-and-frisk policing policies.
ADVERTISEMENTThe controversial policing approach could be harmful in some critical primary states such as South Carolina, which has a significant African-American electorate that could be key in deciding the nominee.
Bloomberg’s wealth, estimated at $48.5 billion by Forbes, could also be a factor in the current political environment where progressives such as freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezAttorney says 75-year-old man shoved by Buffalo police suffered brain injury How language is bringing down Donald Trump Highest-circulation Kentucky newspaper endorses Charles Booker in Senate race MORE (D-N.Y.) easily dominate coverage.
Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.), who’s been a progressive darling, has been openly critical of billionaires and elevated calls for campaign finance reform, with a self-imposed vow not to accept contributions from PACs.
Bloomberg has said he’d spend at least $100 million if he mounts a 2020 campaign and would only use his personal fortune.
Warren recently engaged in a back-and-forth with Bloomberg over her proposed wealth tax, which would create an annual tax on households with a net worth of more than $50 million.
Bloomberg took aim at Warren’s proposal that he called “probably unconstitutional.”
Warren pushed back on his criticism, saying billionaires like Bloomberg and ex-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who’s considering an independent bid, “want to keep a rigged system in place that benefits only them and their buddies.”
Schultz’s possible independent presidential bid has earned him widespread backlash for focusing on criticism of 2020 Democratic candidates.
Nonetheless, some strategists believe there’s still a lane for more moderate candidates especially since a handful of candidates are all competing to stand out in the progressive lane.
And they see Bloomberg having the ability to steer the conversation and debate on his top priorities.
The latest national polling shows that a majority of voters are more interested in “electability.”
A Monday poll conducted by Monmouth University found that 56 percent of polled Democratic-leaning voters prefer a candidate who can beat Trump next year, compared to 33 percent who want someone with whom they align on issues.
As he contemplates his options, Bloomberg continues to make moves toward a presidential run, with recent trips to New Hampshire. He also recently held a business roundtable in Northern Virginia.
But Bloomberg plans to play a role in the 2020 presidential race regardless of his status as a candidate, and his allies told The Hill he could play a key role in backing the eventual Democratic nominee in an effort to defeat Trump as well as elevating the issues of climate change and gun safety.
The Atlantic reported that he’s building up a digital operation that would serve as a massive trove of voter data ahead of 2020 — whether or not he officially wades into the race.
“Whether he decides to run for president or decides to use his power on the issues in other ways,” said Jon Reinish, a veteran New York Democratic strategist, “he’ll no doubt be remarkably consequential.”