Ending campaign, Bloomberg says defeating Trump his priority

NEW YORK (AP) — In just over 100 days, Mike Bloomberg spent over $500 million of his own fortune in a quixotic bid for the presidency that collapsed in stunning fashion on Super Tuesday, when he won just one U.S. territory, American Samoa.

By Wednesday morning, he quit the race and endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden, saying his continued presence in the rapidly shrinking field would make it harder for the party to defeat President Donald Trump in November, his ultimate priority. The businessman, worth an estimated $61 billion, pledged to keep spending to defeat Trump.

“I entered the race for president to defeat Donald Trump, and today, I am leaving the race for the same reason: to defeat Donald Trump,” he said at a rally of staff and supporters at a Manhattan hotel.

In a rare show of emotion, the stoic mayor became tearful when closing his speech, saying he was “amazed at how many people have stood with me shoulder to shoulder.”

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The farewell rally was an otherwise unusually buoyant event for a departing candidate, with staffers cheering and waving American flags. It was also in some ways reflective of the campaign he ran: one fueled by unlimited funds, high production value but little organic support.

Bloomberg’s money eventually wasn’t enough to sell voters on the idea that a former New York City mayor with bottomless resources was the Democratic Party’s best choice. Bloomberg went from a nonexistent campaign to a staff of 2,400 people across 43 states in less than three months and said Wednesday that he received nearly 2 million votes on Tuesday. But he won none of the 14 states that voted Tuesday night and picked up just a handful of delegates in states where he had cautiously hoped for victory as recently as last week.

That was before Biden’s resurgence in South Carolina and the rapid realignment of Democrats behind him. Two of Bloomberg’s former Democratic rivals, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, dropped out of the race. They endorsed Biden as the moderate alternative to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders just the day before Super Tuesday.

But Bloomberg’s campaign may have been doomed from the start, said Mo Elleithee, formerly the top spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. He cited the businessman’s unorthodox decision to skip the first four primary states as an early problem.

“There’s a reason why others have tried this strategy of skipping the early states and it’s never worked, and that’s because you just can’t parachute into a presidential race — especially when it’s pretty deep in — and expect to just coast through,” he said. “What the early states do is they help you work out kinks and get ready for the primary.”

It was a strategy born partly of necessity — Bloomberg’s late entry into the race, in November, meant he didn’t have much time to set up an operation or build a following in the early primary states. At the time, Bloomberg’s internal campaign data showed Biden struggling in the primary, and the path for Bloomberg looked much clearer.

But it’s also one that reflects Bloomberg’s unique asset in the field as the world’s ninth wealthiest man. His fortune flows from the financial data and media company that bears his name, which he started in the 1980s. In addition to serving 12 years as New York mayor, he endeared himself to progressive groups by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into fighting climate change and curbing gun violence.

In the early weeks of his campaign, he used his vast fortune to introduce himself to voters outside New York on his own terms, and his rivals accused him of trying to buy the party’s nomination and the White House. While he spent over $500 million nationally on television, radio and digital ads, he hung his success on Super Tuesday, spending at least $180 million on advertising in those 14 states alone.

As the primaries got underway in February, his bet seemed to have paid off: Bloomberg surged to double digits in the polls just as Biden was taking a hit from underwhelming performances in the first two primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Bloomberg’s team went as far as to declare it a two-person primary between Bloomberg and Sanders. While Bloomberg made an electability case against Sanders and argued the senator’s progressive policies and embrace of democratic socialism didn’t reflect the party, the Vermont senator used the billionaire as a foil to his populist message.

But the focus on advertising and carefully choreographed rallies where the candidate never took questions from voters and rarely from press left him ill prepared for his first turn on the debate stage in over a decade, in Las Vegas in late February. There, he was pummeled by opponents over his support for the controversial stop-and-frisk policing practice and its disproportionate effect on minorities and his company’s nondisclosure agreements with dozens of women, as well as alleged crude and sexist comments about female employees.

Bloomberg’s heavily data-driven campaign watched the former mayor’s favorability ratings fall after that debate. The campaign’s polling shifted again after Biden’s victory in South Carolina, this time in such dramatic fashion toward the former vice president that data was outdated almost as soon as it was presented to Bloomberg and his staff, according to a senior campaign adviser.

The adviser said Bloomberg was clear-eyed about his prospects heading into Super Tuesday voting but felt he needed to stand by his commitment to appear on ballots in the states.

By the time Bloomberg huddled with his senior advisers at the campaign’s headquarters Wednesday morning, the decision was clear. He called Biden to tell him he was dropping out and endorsing his candidacy.

In his statement announcing his decision, Bloomberg said he has worked over the years with Biden and the former vice president is committed to fighting for gun safety, health care, climate change and good jobs.

Trump, for his part, had paid close attention to the Democratic nominating contest and had been especially fixated on Bloomberg. On Tuesday, he called the results a “complete destruction” of Bloomberg’s reputation — and on Wednesday, after Bloomberg dropped out, Trump gloated that “sometimes you just don’t have what it takes.”

What’s next for Bloomberg’s operation is unclear. He’d pledged to keep campaign offices open in key general election battleground states to help Democrats defeat Trump — and he’s continuing to pay his thousands of staffers through the general election.

Elleithee said that means Bloomberg “has the potential to have a lot more impact on this race as a non-candidate than he did as a candidate.”

“As much as Democrats started to demonize Mike Bloomberg the candidate, they loved Mike Bloomberg the progressive benefactor before he became a candidate,” he said.

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Ronayne reported from Los Angeles. AP Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace contributed to this report from Washington.

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