WASHINGTON — Michael Bloomberg’s plan to win the 2020 Democratic nomination in some ways resembles a key part of President Donald Trump’s re-election strategy: Focus on Florida.
The former New York City mayor and billionaire is using his immense personal wealth to blitz the state with $3.5 million worth of 60-second television ads in every major media market through Dec. 3, with the Miami-Fort Lauderdale media market receiving $1.1 million.
The spending, part of a $37 million nationwide ad buy, comes nearly four months ahead of Florida’s March 2020 presidential primary. Bloomberg is all alone on buying TV time in Florida among 2020 Democrats — though fellow billionaire Tom Steyer has dropped millions into national TV ads that air at times in Florida — and running ads in the state is expensive. But Florida awards the fourth-most delegates in the Democratic primary, and his campaign said the spending would likely continue.
“Our plan is twofold: compete aggressively in primary states like Florida where other campaigns have not focused as much, while simultaneously taking the fight to Donald Trump — right now — in those states, which are also key battleground states in the general election,” Bloomberg campaign spokesperson Marc LaVorgna said. “In a state like Florida or other crucial swing states, Trump effectively has had the field to himself, running ads and starting his reelection effort. Mike has begun challenging him in those states already, and is the only candidate doing so.”
Trump has spent about $7 million on TV ads nationwide, including an ad that aired nationally during the World Series, but the bulk of his campaign spending, at least $33 million, has been on digital efforts designed to expand fundraising lists online.
But Bloomberg, who is worth an estimated $55 billion, says he’ll eschew donors and fully self-fund his campaign. While his 2020 opponents like former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg spend their time and money in early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Bloomberg is banking that none of them will emerge from the early contests as a clear front-runner.
The potential vacuum gives him an opening, Miami-based Democratic strategist and pollster Fernand Amandi said.
“Let’s just start with the premise that the American electorate has no framework to understand what a Michael Bloomberg candidacy can be like,” Amandi said. “What makes it so daunting is there is no budget. What he’s doing in Florida is evidence of that.”
Amandi pointed to Bloomberg’s successful 2001 New York City mayoral campaign and subsequent re-elections as evidence that the advertising blitz can work. Bloomberg spent $74 million to win the general election as a Republican, a record for a non-presidential race at the time, and he ultimately spent $268 million on three mayoral campaigns.
Bloomberg’s TV ad in Florida touches on his biography as a self-made billionaire businessman and mayor, along with contrasting him with Trump on issues like coal production and with left-leaning Democrats on issues like universal health care.
In addition to spending $1.1 million in Miami and Broward, Bloomberg is spending $825,000 in Orlando, $731,000 in Tampa Bay, $259,000 in Fort Myers-Naples, $164,000 in Jacksonville and $77,000 in Tallahassee, according to Advertising Analytics, a firm that tracks political ad spending. If Trump turns on the TV at Mar-a-Lago over Thanksgiving, he may encounter a Bloomberg ad — he’s spending $308,000 on ads in West Palm Beach.
The early ad spending in Florida has one political parallel: Sen. Rick Scott.
Scott, a Republican, spent about $75 million of his own money to become governor in 2010, and he spent $65 million of his own money to win a U.S. Senate seat in 2018.
“Rick Scott spent $13.9 million a week in Florida so that’s a multimillionaire, billionaire levels for Florida specifically. Maybe Bloomberg will get there in March,” said Kevin Cate, a Florida-based Democratic consultant who makes TV ads for candidates and who is working with Steyer, a billionaire also seeking the 2020 nomination who has spent $41 million on TV ads nationally.
Cate said the effectiveness of Bloomberg’s early spending is likely tempered somewhat by the constant attention on other 2020 candidates. In contrast, U.S. Senate and gubernatorial candidates like Scott aren’t able to command nationwide daily attention, which makes paid advertising like TV ads more important.
“That’s why generally speaking in 2016 you saw the media basically cover every movement of Donald Trump and that … was worth mountains of money more than anything Donald Trump put on TV, even when Trump was a lower-tier candidate,” Cate said.
Cate said a single week of Warren’s TV and media coverage — not ads — amounts to three times the monetary value of Bloomberg’s ad buy.
But the current state of the Democratic field likely pushed Bloomberg into the race.
Videos of recent focus groups conducted by America First Policies, a super PAC supporting Trump’s re-election effort, that were viewed by the Miami Herald indicated that self-identified swing voters who have voted in three of the last four elections generally did not have a positive view of the Democrats running for president and questioned whether any of the leading candidates could beat Trump.
The focus groups, held in Miami and Orlando in October, occurred before Bloomberg announced his candidacy.
Wes Anderson, a Republican pollster and veteran of Florida campaigns who conducted the focus groups, said the swing voters he talked to say Trump will run circles around any of the leading Democrats in a one-on-one campaign.
“Swing voters are telling us they will default to reelect Trump unless the Democrats convince them to do something otherwise,” Anderson said.
The focus groups, which included a group of non-Cuban Hispanics from Miami and Puerto Rican men from Orlando, generally did not have high opinions of Warren, Sanders or Biden. Warren and Biden were frequently dubbed “socialists” by the focus group participants while opinions on Biden were mixed between acknowledgment of his experience along with perceptions that he’s too old for the job.
Anderson agreed with Cate that Bloomberg’s ad spending will be dwarfed by the news coverage the leading Democrats will get, but a focus on southern states like Florida could pay off if a front-runner does not emerge from the early contests.
Scott, who is worth at least $166 million, saw a dip in his net worth after spending on his U.S. Senate campaign. But Bloomberg is worth an estimated $54.1 billion according to Forbes, making him the ninth-wealthiest person in the world.
“It’s saying to the rest of the field, ‘My pockets are as deep as advertised. I’m going to go to one of the most expensive states and I dare you to follow me,’ ” Anderson said of Bloomberg’s Florida strategy. Bloomberg is “kind of just showing up to the poker table and saying, ‘What’s the price to play? I’ll pay double.’ ”
Amandi said Bloomberg’s wealth could be a boon to candidates like Sanders and Warren — who is selling coffee mugs printed with the phrase “billionaire tears” after multiple billionaires blasted her for policy proposals like a wealth tax.
Both candidates came out swinging on Bloomberg’s first official day as a candidate Monday.
“What he believes — and this is the arrogance of billionaires: ‘Hey, I can run for president because I’m worth $55 billion, and maybe I’ll take $1 billion out of that $55 billion.’ Not a lot, when you’re worth that much. And … start running a massive amount of TV ads in California and, in fact, all over this country,” Sanders told reporters in New Hampshire.
Bloomberg also benefits from earned media like his competitors. The first 2020 national poll released after Bloomberg joined the race showed him with 3% support, tied with Sens. Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar and only behind the top four polling candidates, Biden, Buttigieg, Sanders and Warren.
“We don’t know if it’s too early or too late, or if he’s going to spend too much or too little,” Amandi said. “He has no budget. That’s never happened in American history before.”