WELLS, MINN. – Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg stood in the barn of a soybean farm in southern Minnesota on Wednesday, trying to prove that a former New York City mayor would fight for rural America.
“We eat and live based on what you do,” Bloomberg told the Johnson family, who farm the land near Albert Lea. “And I think it’s easy for us living in big cities to forget about the rest of the world and it just doesn’t come up because you don’t see them every day.”
As he makes his first appearance in Minnesota as a presidential contender, the billionaire business mogul has shaken up the Democratic primaries by bombarding voters here and in other Super Tuesday states with television ads touting his record, in part to make up for his late entry in the 2020 race.
One of the richest men in the world, Bloomberg has spent nearly $2 million on TV ads so far in Minnesota, the home turf of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, one of his Democratic rivals. But while his wealth and ability to self-fund has prompted some grumbling in Democratic circles, his ads attack President Donald Trump rather than Klobuchar or any of the other Democrats in the field.
So far all of Bloomberg’s fire has been primarily trained on Trump, a dynamic that analysts said represents nothing but upside for whichever Democrat faces Trump in the general election, particularly in a battleground state like Minnesota that the president has vowed to win.
“All of the Democrats are going to benefit from the fact that Michael Bloomberg is going after President Donald Trump and talking about the fact that he shortchanged Americans and has not held true the promises he made when he was campaigning,” said James Anderson, a senior adviser for the Bloomberg campaign.
Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said he has been told Bloomberg is committed to maintaining a presence here far beyond the state’s primary on March 3. “He’s building this not just for himself, but he’s building it for whoever the eventual nominee is,” Martin said. “I have no doubt that will have a huge impact on our ability to win.”
Bloomberg’s campaign staff said he plans to open seven field offices in the state and create an extensive network of organizers here. During his well-choreographed visit to the farm in Wells, Bloomberg wasn’t focused on other Democrats or on Trump, but on learning about the needs of Darin Johnson and his family.
He briefly toured the property on a frigid afternoon. The Johnsons shared how rural broadband is critical as farm technology improves. They also mentioned the hardships of China’s retaliatory tariffs from Trump’s trade war and the long distances between health care providers in rural Minnesota.
Bloomberg also used the Johnson farm as the pastoral backdrop for a plan he released Thursday aimed at investing and increasing jobs in parts of the nation he argues the administration has shortchanged. He said he would boost community-college education and training opportunities and build new types of jobs. His plan would also increase the national minimum wage to $15 and protect labor organizations.
Minnesota was the second stop in a three-state tour including communities in Illinois and Ohio. The Midwestern itinerary was to include talk of jobs and income growth at Olive-Harvey College in Chicago and small businesses at Bounce Innovation Hub in Akron.
“Most of the candidates are out in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in South Carolina, and Mike is in rural Minnesota because he wants folks here to get to know him better,” Anderson said, adding that Bloomberg is going to run a robust operation here. “You will see state offices, you will see regional organizing, field organizing, for many, many, many months. We are seriously committed to Minnesota and you will see a very strong presence from Mike Bloomberg here.”
Bloomberg joined the race in November and has been netting around 5% in national polls, far behind the top echelon in the Democratic pack, which includes former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
The other campaigns stress that they also are focused on the 14 states, including Minnesota, that vote on Super Tuesday. Some also emphasize that they have been building volunteer networks in those places for a long time.
Biden’s campaign, for example, announced this week that it hired senior staff in Minnesota and Colorado, another Super Tuesday state. And volunteers with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign have held more than 450 events in Minnesota so far.
Kathryn Pearson, a political-science professor at the University of Minnesota, said Bloomberg’s infusion of resources could spark mixed reactions among Minnesota Democrats.
“On the one hand, I think some Democrats wish he would just invest his ample resources into promoting voter mobilization for Democrats more generally, as opposed to running himself,” she said. “On the other hand, even if he is not the nominee, having a presence here and mobilizing voters to get interested in the race still could be helpful to the Democratic Party overall.”
Bloomberg’s ample self-funding has raised eyebrows in rival camps, particularly since it permits him to bypass public contributions, one of the metrics for appearing in the debates. His absence from the debate stages has lowered his profile, but also shielded him from mixing it up with his rivals.
“I actually think it’s a real problem for him and makes it harder in that primary voters want to have interaction with candidates from afar,” said Minnesota political consultant Jeff Blodgett, an adviser to the Klobuchar campaign. “They want to see their candidates in action. They want them to be able to answer questions and communicate how they plan on winning the race.”
But Bloomberg has had little trouble getting his message out. He already has spent $1.9 million on TV ads in Minnesota, according to website FiveThirtyEight’s ad buy analysis. He also netted a 60-second spot in the Super Bowl ad lineup, paying $10 million for the airtime, countering Trump, whose re-election campaign has done the same.