As anxiety mounts within the Democratic Party over which candidate is best suited to defeat President Trump in November, Democrats on Capitol Hill are increasingly turning to someone who’s saved their bacon before: Mike Bloomberg.
The billionaire former mayor of New York City—who spent tens of millions of dollars to help Democrats win back the House in 2018—is rising in Democratic primary polls as former Vice President Joe Biden falters. He seems primed to compete in states that are holding primaries on Super Tuesday and beyond, where he’s flooded the airwaves with TV ads and set up scores of field offices.
After receiving his first endorsement from a congressional Democrat on Jan. 13, Bloomberg has since picked up eight more, giving him more support on Capitol Hill than Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), or former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of Indiana.
Most of those backers are moderates, and several have announced their support for Bloomberg since last week’s primary-muddling Iowa caucus debacle. Democratic lawmakers and aides told The Daily Beast that outreach from the Bloomberg campaign has ramped up dramatically in recent days: Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI), who’s made clear he does not plan to endorse a candidate in the primary, said he’s heard from Bloomberg-world “almost every day for the last week.”
Bloomberg, said campaign co-chair Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), “is the buzz in the caucus. That’s the buzz right now.”
For a sizable faction of Democrats, it’s not hard to see the appeal. Bloomberg marries fiscal centrism with staunchly liberal stances on key Democratic issues like gun control and climate change; his record as New York City mayor, to them, is a unique strength and offers a compelling alternative to other candidates’ backgrounds.
But there are also some closer-to-home reasons for Democratic lawmakers to back Bloomberg: some suspect that backing the billionaire—who’s used his massive fortune to benefit the political fortunes of dozens of members of Congress—could be a way for some lawmakers to increase their chances that he air-drops a few million into their own races this year.
Asked if that was factors into the calculus for some Democrats, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA)—who has not endorsed any candidate for president—paused. “Oh,” he said with a sarcastic edge, “I’m sure it doesn’t.”
A New York City Democratic elected official, speaking anonymously to discuss the issue candidly, said the possibility that Bloomberg might support them down the road is almost certainly playing a role in Democrats’ endorsement calculations.
“I’m sure that’s part of it,” the official said. “Whether it’s real or imagined, discussed or not, Bloomberg is a guy who can fund an entire campaign for somebody.”
No Bloomberg supporters, of course, say that any hopes for an influx of his money are informing anyone’s decision to endorse. “That’s a ridiculous assertion,” said Rep. Max Rose (D-NY), the first House Democrat to back Bloomberg. “If that were the case, everyone would have endorsed Tom Steyer a year ago. Come on, man.”
A spokesperson for the Bloomberg campaign also downplayed the idea that this calculation played into Bloomberg backers’ decisions, noting that the billionaire candidate has already committed to investing millions of dollars to help Democrats keep the House and take the Senate. He has already cut a $10 million check to House Majority PAC, a group committed to supporting House Democrats, no matter who they’ve endorsed for president.
Any calculations of future support aside, Bloomberg’s prolific past support of congressional Democrats puts him in a category all his own in the 2020 primary—and perhaps even in modern campaign history. As presidential candidates hustle to woo lawmakers who could give them an edge in what’ll be a long, painstakingly-fought primary, only one of them can credibly say they have played a role in making a bunch of seats blue.
It’s an ironic turn for a former Republican who endorsed George W. Bush in 2004 and, up until very recently, was still giving generously to Republicans. In 2016, for example, Bloomberg was more supportive of GOP candidates than Democrats, and dropped $6 million to back Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA)—a leading Republican on gun control—in a race Democrats wanted desperately to win.