Long before he launched a late-stage presidential bid with an ad blitz across Minnesota and other battleground states, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg put his vast fortune to work around the state.
He funded pushes to legalize same-sex marriage in the state in 2013 and, more recently, helped fill DFL coffers in the 2018 bid to flip two U.S. House districts in Minnesota won by Democrats Angie Craig and Dean Phillips.
Last year, Bloomberg’s American Cities Climate Challenge added Minneapolis and St. Paul alongside 23 other cities in a project to improve energy efficiency in city buildings and promote clean transportation alternatives such as electric vehicles and mass transit.
Along the way, Bloomberg’s initiative to increase the number of low-income students on college campuses has reached Minnesota higher-education institutions like the University of St. Thomas and the University of Minnesota.
Bloomberg is also linked to the hiring this year of a new lawyer focused on environmental issues at the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office — a move that prompted a data practices lawsuit from Energy Policy Advocates, a group with ties to the fossil fuel industry.
Few groups have exhibited his influence more than Moms Demand Action, a nonpartisan gun control advocacy network affiliated with Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety group, which he co-founded as a counterweight to the National Rifle Association.
“There’s been just a really big shift where we have been able to make the issue of gun violence prevention and common sense gun reform something that comes up in elections and in the room at the statehouse,” said Molly Leutz, a co-leader of a Minnesota chapter that now counts more than 20 cells across the state.
Bloomberg won office in New York as both a Republican and independent, but his backing of a slew of liberal causes makes him a known quantity in activist circles that could influence the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries. He kicked off his campaign last month with a $30 million national ad blitz. It includes at least 600 commercials that will air in Minnesota, worth an estimated $692,000.
It also renewed accusations that Bloomberg, whose personal fortune is estimated to be $58 billion, was trying to buy his way to the White House. Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is vying for the same slice of moderate Democrats, repeated that charge last week.
“I just don’t think people are going to buy it, that you just buy it,” Klobuchar said on ABC’s “This Week” last Sunday.
Bloomberg’s wealth could position him as a viable challenger to Trump in a general election, but he poses a more immediate threat to the other moderates in the Democratic field, including former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Klobuchar. Bloomberg tied with Klobuchar and California Sen. Kamala Harris with 3% of the vote in last week’s Quinnipiac University National Poll.
While Bloomberg has thrown his money behind issues like gun control and clean energy — which both enjoy broad support across the Democratic spectrum — his opposition to more progressive proposals like Medicare for All and a “Green New Deal” stand to trip him up among a more liberal electorate that will be crucial to winning the nomination.
“The key thing to think about with Bloomberg is he’s running in the Democratic primary and the voters in the Democratic primary are not a cross-section of America,” said Lawrence Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School. “He’s a moderate Republican … trying to win a liberal Democratic primary. That’s pretty tough.”
Bloomberg’s spending on gun control activism over the past decade has supplied him with an important early resource in the race: access to Moms Demand Action’s list of supporters, estimated at about 6 million. A spokesperson for Everytown for Gun Safety said Bloomberg’s campaign is “temporarily renting access” to the supporter list.
Leutz described Bloomberg as “another strong voice for this issue in a field of strong voices on this issue.” But neither she nor her fellow supporters are feeling any pressure to back Bloomberg, Leutz said.
“We’re a single-issue organization, but we’re not single-issue people,” she said.
Beyond Bloomberg’s political misalignment with the progressive politics of Democratic primary voters, Kenza Hadj-Moussa, communications director for the progressive TakeAction Minnesota, said his billionaire status is likely to further make winning the nomination a long-shot.
“I think that Minnesotans would see it as antithetical to our democracy,” Hadj-Moussa said. “There’s little that a billionaire can share in common with the people that they would be representing.”