Bloomberg's 2020 flirtation shows instability in the Democratic race

Image: Michael Bloomberg
Mayor Michael Bloomberg stands in the doorway of the 7 subway train as he leaves a news conference on Dec. 20, 2013 in New York. Copyright Mark Lennihan AP file
By Chuck Todd and Mark Murray and Carrie Dann with NBC News Politics
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First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.


WASHINGTON — If you want to know why Michael Bloomberg is preparing to jump into the 2020 race and why some Democratic operatives and donors are fretting about the field, here's your answer.

The Dem race feels more unstable and unsettled than it's ever been. Just consider the current Top 4:

  • Joe Biden looks vulnerable as a frontrunner representing the pragmatic wing of the party.
  • Elizabeth Warren's polling numbers have stalled, and there are worries about her Medicare for All support.
  • Pete Buttigieg has now become a co-frontrunner in Iowa, but there are doubts about his upside in more diverse states.
  • And Bernie Sanders just had a heart attack, even as his polling numbers have ticked up a bit.

Moreover, among this Top 4:

  • Three are 70 or older; the other is 37.
  • Three are from the East Coast/New England; the other is mayor of South Bend, Ind.
  • And none has won a statewide general contest outside the East Coast/New England.

Now Democratic voters say they're satisfied with their field — the most recent NBC/WSJ poll found a combined 85 percent saying they were "very" or "somewhat" satisfied. And most polling shows that almost any Democrat could beat President Trump next year.

But what seems to be missing for the party is a big-tent Democrat — at least in this Top 4 — who has the ability to unite a Democratic Party that's increasingly divided by ideology (progressives vs. moderates) and age (younger Dems vs. older ones).

(Just think about the Top 3 of the 2008 Democratic field: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. All three were big-tent Dems.)

Bloomberg, of course, isn't the answer to bridge these divides, since he's in the moderate/older lane. (He's also 77 and from New York City.)

And so his potential candidacy would likely hurt Biden and help Warren.

But the hunt to find someone who can unite the party is real.

How a Bloomberg candidacy affects Biden, Warren

If Bloomberg does enter the 2020 race — it's not a done deal yet — it would put pressure on Biden to perform at a higher level than he's been doing these last few months.

No more shaky debate performances. No more ducking interviews. He can't afford to let Bloomberg out-perform him.

Bottom line: Bloomberg's entry would either expose him or improve him as a candidate.

As for Warren, the timing couldn't be better; Bloomberg allows her to talk about her wealth tax rather than Medicare for All.

And for Buttigieg, who was beginning to put together a nice coalition of mayoral backers, Bloomberg's entry introduces one of America's most famous mayors with a proven record in one of the hardest jobs in U.S. politics.

Oh, one other point: If Bloomberg runs, that means two of the biggest Democratic donors — Bloomberg and Tom Steyer — would be spending money on their presidential bids instead of for Dem causes and outside races.

That's not a positive development for the party.

Data Download: The number of the day is … minus-11 points

-11 points.

That was Michael Bloomberg's net favorability rating among likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa, according to a Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom pollback in March.


Bloomberg's underwater rating was the worst of the Democratic field in the poll, which found overwhelmingly positive reviews for Democratic frontrunners like Joe Biden (net 68) and Bernie Sanders (net 46.)

Just 27 percent had a favorable view of Bloomberg, while 38 percent said they had a negative one.

How Putin and Orban shaped Trump's views of Ukraine

Turning to the impeachment inquiry, State Department official George Kent testified before Congress how Russia's Vladimir Putin and Hungary's Viktor Orban shaped President Trump's negative views of Ukraine, NBC's Josh Lederman writes.

"George Kent, a senior State Department official responsible for Europe, told House investigators that Putin and Orban, along with Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, had 'shaped the president's view of Ukraine and (President Volodymyr) Zelenskiy.' He said Trump's conversations with the two leaders accounted for the change in Trump's view of Zelenskiy from 'very positive' after their first call on April 21 to "negative" just one month later when he met with advisers on Ukraine in the Oval Office."

More: "Kent's description of those conversations, included in the transcript of his deposition by the House released Thursday, feeds into longstanding concerns from national security experts that the president's views on key foreign issues are being influenced by Putin and other autocratic leaders such as Orban."


Folks, that Putin/Orban influence is just as big of a deal as Trump hunting for dirt on Joe Biden and 2016.

2020 Vision: Buy me love

Speaking of billionaires in the 2020 Dem race, this wasn't good news for Tom Steyer's campaign yesterday.

"A top aide to Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer in Iowa privately offered campaign contributions to local politicians in exchange for endorsing his White House bid, according to multiple people with direct knowledge of the conversations," the AP reported.

On the campaign trail today

Joe Biden and Andrew Yang file their paperwork to participate in the New Hampshire primary… Pete Buttigieg begins his bus tour through the Granite State… Bernie Sanders holds a rallies with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Council Bluffs, Iowa… Amy Klobuchar also stumps in the Hawkeye State.. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Tom Steyer all participate in a forum on environmental justice in South Carolina… And Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas.

Dispatches from NBC's embeds

Candidates responded to Michael Bloomberg possibly entering the 2020 race, and Amy Klobuchar was asked by NBC's Maura Barrett if she thought Bloomberg's entrance could affect her candidacy in the moderate lane. "I don't think that this is going to change my approach or who I am or what I do and maybe it'll even make more highlighted when you got someone who's normal who's running, financially, who's relying on help from everyone in the country," Klobuchar said. "This is a stark difference from someone who can just come in and plop down checks and buy a bunch of ads. I think people are going to see through it."


More progressive candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders attacked Bloomberg for possibly entering the race. Sanders tweeted, "The billionaire class is scared and they should be scared." Warren went further, remarking in North Carolina, "Look, my view is that we strengthen our democracy when we get out and build a grassroots movement, that's why I'm right here in North Carolina. That's why I've been all across this country and to Puerto Rico, it's why I've already done more than a 150 town halls and taken thousands of unfiltered questions and tens of thousands of selfies because it's not enough just to have somebody come in - anybody - and say that they can buy this election."

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