Bloomberg Spent Half a Billion for Little ROE

Not a great night for the former New York major. But he still has $54.5 billion to comfort him.

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Money_Cash.jpg

The FiveThirtyEight forecast is, by its very nature, extremely volatile. It depends very much on events that haven’t happened yet. But, ahead of South Carolina, it ran three scenarios: Joe Biden wins big, Joe Biden barely wins, and Bernie Sanders wins. Only the middle of those outcomes offered any opening for Mike Bloomberg to have a great night on Super Tuesday and emerge as the moderate alternative to Sanders.

There wasn’t enough time between Saturday night’s announcement of a big Biden win in the Palmetto State and the opening of the polls Tuesday morning to conduct a lot of polling. But the combination of Biden’s big win and the rush of his former opponents—including recently-departed Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar—to endorse him radically changed the landscape going in.

Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren were the big losers from this change of expectations. We’ll get to her later. But Bloomberg couldn’t have had a worse night electorally.

AP (“AP source: Bloomberg to reassess after disappointing results“):

Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg will reassess on Wednesday whether he should stay in the race after getting disappointing results in Super Tuesday primaries despite spending more than a half billion dollars on his three-month campaign.
A person close to the Bloomberg campaign confirmed the deliberations. The person wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter by name and requested anonymity. Bloomberg flew back to New York after campaigning Tuesday in Florida, a state that votes March 17 and where he’s already spent millions.

Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman and former New York mayor, spent sums never before seen in political campaign history since entering the race in November. Millions of dollars went toward states like Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee — all three of which former Vice President Joe Biden won on Tuesday, riding a wave after his decisive victory in South Carolina. Sen. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, racked up victories in California, Colorado and other states.

People are rushing to second-guess his decision to run:

Bloomberg’s poor showing was a rejection by voters of the central rationale of his campaign: He was the candidate best poised to take on Republican President Donald Trump. And it was proof that, in politics, money can’t solve every problem. Bloomberg, one of the world’s wealthiest men, has a $61 billion net worth that flows from the financial data and media company he founded in the 1980s, Bloomberg LP.

“When you come in late to the game and you are someone who has a record, you can’t assume you can just wash that away with spending. You’re still gonna have to answer questions and you’re still gonna have to be vetted,” said Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist and former Hillary Clinton aide.

Well, sure.

But if Biden had had an anemic finish in South Carolina Saturday, voters may well have rallied to Bloomberg yesterday. Indeed, Bloomberg was my backup in that event.

Bloomberg had aimed to take advantage of a weak and divided field of moderate candidates and collect enough delegates out of the day to emerge as the moderate alternative to Sanders. But Biden was boosted by Amy Klobuchar’s and Pete Buttigieg’s decisions to exit the race and endorse him.

The AP has allocated some delegates to Bloomberg from the territory of American Samoa, Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Colorado, Alabama and Oklahoma.

Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg’s campaign manager, said the campaign’s “number one priority remains defeating Donald Trump in November.”

If that’s indeed his goal—and I believe it is—then dropping out and throwing his endorsement and money behind Biden would now seem to be the best option. Indeed, that would have been his best option Sunday or Monday—as I wrote several times. But one understands his desire to at least test his waters once with the voters after such a massive investment.

There were signs Bloomberg wants to to stay in the race. He has already announced campaign stops in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. He’s spent tens of millions of dollars in states that don’t vote until later in March or April, and bought new advertising time on Tuesday night, according to the ad tracking firm Advertising Analytics.

But Bloomberg has plenty of money. He won’t even notice another few million dollars and he has to hedge his bets until his decision is final. But it seems a rather obvious one at this point.

Bloomberg himself spoke before most of the races had been decided, and preemptively dismissed the outcome.

“No matter how many delegates we win tonight, we have done something no one thought was possible: In just three months, we’ve gone from 1 percent in the polls to being a contender for the Democratic nomination for president,” he said.

Indeed, Bloomberg’s money allowed him to campaign in the Super Tuesday states in ways his opponents could only dream of. He was the only candidate on air in all 14 states, and had staff on the ground in every state, including some teams that campaign leadership said were bigger than any campaign had built for a prior election.

According to TV ad spending data obtained by The Associated Press, Bloomberg dropped nearly $180 million on television advertising in those states as of this past weekend. More than $100 million went into Texas and California, the race’s two largest delegate troves, coming out to roughly $3 per voter.

In San Diego, some Democrats have even turned Bloomberg’s name into a verb to describe one Democratic candidate’s massive spending in the local congressional race, saying she’s “Bloomberged” the race. A TV viewer there could have seen a Bloomberg ad as many as 40 times in the 10 days leading up to the election. Bloomberg hired more than 300 operatives in the state as part of a national staff of 2,400 people.

“It has to be somewhat humbling, not making any showing at all, especially given all he’s spent both on TV buys and on field organizing,” said Jess Durfee, a Democratic National Committee member from San Diego who voted for Elizabeth Warren.

Of course it’s embarrassing to have so little to show for such a big investment. But, while I’m under no illusion that the average voter spends anything like the amount of time I do consuming information, I’m sure most of them understood going in that it was a two-man race. It’s why so many people who weren’t enthusiastic about Biden wound up voting for him.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Mike Bloomberg, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kylopod says:

    I saw this comment about him a couple of weeks ago at another forum:

    Like Michigan J. Frog, he’s all “Hello My Baby, Hello My Darling” when no one’s looking, then he gets on the debate stage and… croak.

    4
  2. Moosebreath says:

    I suspect that if last October, Bloomberg looked into a crystal ball and could see that Biden would recover his standing and be in the shape he is now, Bloomberg would never have entered the race.

    2
  3. James Joyner says:

    @Moosebreath:

    I suspect that if last October, Bloomberg looked into a crystal ball and could see that Biden would recover his standing and be in the shape he is now, Bloomberg would never have entered the race.

    I don’t think there’s any question: Bloomberg ran because Biden seemed to be toast and he surmised that there was no other viable non-Bernie option.

    2
  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Moosebreath: I suspect it was always about Bloomberg riding to the rescue because he was the only person who could do it. These people always think they are the savior.

    4
  5. Not the IT Dept. says:

    I hope Democrats in general and Biden in particular learns something from Bloomberg’s campaign. Namely, the importance of attacking Trump and hitting him in his ego about his nonexistent business success and his overhyped billionaire status. Bloomberg on the sidelines needling Trump might be the best thing he can contribute at this point.

    5
  6. Jax says:

    It would be really great if Bloomberg would focus all those millions on the Senate. Mitch McConnell must go, particularly if Trump wins. Lindsey Graham must go. I would like to think that the damage Trump might inflict during a second term could be mitigated somewhat with Democrats holding the House and Senate.

    3
  7. James Joyner says:

    @Jax:

    It would be really great if Bloomberg would focus all those millions on the Senate.

    He’s been donating heavily to Democratic House and Senate—even state legislative—races for a while now with demonstrable impact. I have confidence he’ll continue that.

    3
  8. Moosebreath says:

    @James Joyner:

    “He’s been donating heavily to Democratic House and Senate—even state legislative—races for a while now with demonstrable impact.”

    Republicans as well (Pat Toomey in 2016 among them).

    2
  9. Kathy says:

    In hindsight, it’s a shame Bloomberg didn’t enter the Republican primaries in 2016. He might have won the nomination, or more likely taken off enough of the Trump vote to have Kasich or Rubio win it.

    But that’s hindsight, and I won’t blame Bloomberg for not having done it.

    What he should do, if he really wants to engage in charitable works, is help cure america of its bad case of Republican Trumpitis, and pump money and ads against Trump, and in support of Biden and every Democrat running for the Senate.

    Getting rid of Trump is paramount. But getting rid of Moscow Mitch is also very important.

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  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kathy:

    What he should do, if he really wants to engage in charitable works,

    is buy FOX news and gut it.

    8
  11. Moosebreath says:

    @Kathy:

    “What he should do, if he really wants to engage in charitable works”

    is pay all of the fines and court costs so former prisoners in Florida have their voting rights restored. Not that your suggestion or @OzarkHillbilly’s: are bad ones.

    5
  12. KM says:

    @James Joyner :
    It’s not that’s he’s not donating but rather the perception of waste – that money *could* be going to something more useful then a pointless vanity run even if he has a ton to spread around. People who don’t have that kind of money (aka all of us) can’t fathom the concept of billions to blow and apply what they know – money is finite and that means if it’s not being used properly, it’s being wasted.

    Think of it like this: every year, people waste valuable food to make inedible decorations for their house and work in the form of gingerbread houses. Places like Disney go all out to make people-sized buildings and carousels out of gingerbread and other sweets for nothing more then the “Wow!!!”. To the maker, it’s a negligible loss if any for something whimsical and seasonally appropriate. It never occurs to them they are wasting eggs, flour and other food to make something that sits on a shelf for months, gets ignored most of the time and only serves to look pretty in your environment when people could be eating said foodstuffs. If you’re starving, that’s your dinner somebody decided should be a badly-made cottage. If you are food insecure, it’s a taunt that someone has so much they can flitter it away while you suffer. It comes across very, very poorly no matter.

    Bloomberg is essentially building a city out of gingerbread while still filling the local food pantries. Good for him for helping out but he’s still wasting money making his own personal tasty Manhattan for no real reason other then he wants to. It’s a sign he doesn’t really *get* real life for 99% of us and we’ve noticed.

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  13. Kathy says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Sounds good, but that would really be a lousy ROE for Bloomberg.

    If we’ve learned nothing about prohibition, both of alcohol and drugs, we should learn this: a popular product that gets banned does not disappear, it simply gets supplied by a criminal enterprise.

    No question of legally banning Fox. So if Bloomberg bought Fox news and turned it into a decent news network, or just sold off the assets piecemeal and closed it, we’d get some other right-wing entrepreneur build something like it elsewhere. See the Sinclair Group.

    The way to shut up Fox for good is to diminish the demand for its toxic product. That will take time.

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  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    He’s out.

    Sanders is over. Biden’s got this.

    4
  15. mattbernius says:

    Again, imagine the impact Bloomberg might have had if he had taken that $500M and established a fund to pay off the often impossible amount of fees, fines, and restitution that prevent many formerly incarcerated people from voting in Florida (despite the popular will of the votes to renfranchise them).

    2
  16. steve story says:

    Biden winning Texas is the moment the doors blew off the thing.

    5
  17. Teve says:

    @mattbernius: You don’t think there are going to be people pitching that to him?

    1
  18. Teve says:

    NPR says Bloomberg is saying his money and his crew are going to help Biden now.

    5
  19. Stormy Dragon says:

    As the only New York mayor to win a national presidential primary, he’s assured his place as a Trivial Pursuit question, at least.

  20. EddieInCA says:

    In 2016, per Forbes, Bloomberg was worth $45.1 billion. Today, per Wikipedia, hes worth $61 billion. $500,000,000 is couch cushion money to a guy like that. He could spend $500,000,000 every year, and it would take him 120 years to spend his fortune assuming he never made another dime.

    Poor Michael Bloomberg.

    3
  21. de stijl says:

    It would behoove us as a citizenry to ignore vanity seeking billionaires as serious Presidential candidates.

    Perhaps if there were a negative example folks could reference…

    It will happen sooner or later. The smallfolk love a rich, tough, strong leader.

    1
  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    As much as I hate to be this guy 😉 , Mitch and Lindsay Dahling aren´t likely to be going anywhere no matter how much money Bloomberg would be willing to spend.

  23. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    No, neither of them are likely to lose. Still, I wouldn’t mind making them sweat a bit.

  24. Kathy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I’ll settle for Mr. Minority Leader Moscow Mitch.

    2
  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kathy: Hey! It’s my fantasy and I’m sticking to it. Why don’t you destroy one of your own fantasies with facts, logic, and reality.

    1
  26. An Interested Party says:

    $500MM for American Samoa!?

    Bloomberg has nothing to be ashamed of when compared to your hero…at least Bloomberg is an actual billionaire who has actually created legitimate charities and actually donated a lot of his money to legitimate charities…

    1
  27. Kathy says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Why don’t you destroy one of your own fantasies with facts, logic, and reality.

    Oh, the question is “Why don’t I don’t destroy my own fantasies with facts, logic, and reality?” I do it all the time, even with sexual fantasies (though I’m far more willing to take a dose of handwavium, literally and figuratively, in such cases). Hell, sometimes I have to make use of Clarke’s Third Law: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic (you heard me).

    1
  28. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @EddieInCA:

    In 2016, per Forbes, Bloomberg was worth $45.1 billion. Today, per Wikipedia, hes worth $61 billion. $500,000,000 is couch cushion money to a guy like that.

    Bloomberg LP (ignoring the web of ownership trusts) is structured as a limited partnership and is 88% owned by Bloomberg. The other 12% belongs to Merrill. It reliably generates at least $10 billion a year in revenue with about a 40% profit margin.

    The short version of that is that Bloomberg (or trusts he controls) collects about $3.5 billion in actual income every year, year after year. He’s paid in a year what Trump is alleged to possess in overall net worth. It’s a whole different stratum of wealth. $500 million is a rounding error for him.