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Mike Bloomberg helped Democrats win the House in 2018. Will he still spend in 2020 too?

Former New York mayor spent five times more on his presidential bid than in the 2018 midterms

Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg dropped out of the presidential race  Wednesday.
Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg dropped out of the presidential race Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Democratic presidential primary remained in flux after Super Tuesday, but one thing was certain: The field is even smaller now, with former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg out of the race.

Bloomberg’s allies in Congress believe he’ll remain engaged in 2020, particularly in down-ballot races where he can make a substantial impact.

In 2018, Bloomberg spent an estimated $112 million on House and Senate races through super PACs and direct contributions to candidates and other groups, according to The New York Times. He spent roughly five times that amount on his 2020 presidential bid, which lasted just three and a half months.

In a speech endorsing former Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday, Bloomberg pledged not to “walk away from the most important political fight of my life,” but he didn’t elaborate on his future plans. A source with his campaign told CQ Roll Call that the campaign maintains that it will keep offices open and field organizers on the ground in “key battleground states.” 

Bloomberg’s supporters in Congress said they were hopeful he would leverage his seemingly endless resources to help Democrats up and down the ballot.

“I’m confident he’ll stay true to his word and maintain his infrastructure to support the Democratic nominee,” said California Rep. Harley Rouda, who had endorsed the former mayor.

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2018 impact

Bloomberg’s spending was crucial in 2018. His super PAC, Independence USA, was part of coalition of outside groups, led by House Majority PAC, that coordinated to strategically spend in battleground House districts. The super PAC spent more than $38 million in independent expenditures that cycle.

The group was data-driven, relying on polling and surveys to expand the 2018 battlefield, and spent money in races that weren’t on the party radar, like Oklahoma’s 5th District where Democrat Kendra Horn pulled off an upset victory.

“It maxed out the victory scenario in ways we didn’t anticipate,” one Democratic strategist said of the group’s efforts that cycle. 

Bloomberg touted his influence in 2018 in a recent debate, stumbling over his words when he said said he spent $100 million to elect 21 of the freshman Democrats.

“All of the new Democrats that came in and put Nancy Pelosi in charge and gave the Congress the ability to control this president, I bough — I, I got them,” he said.

The moment was just one of Bloomberg’s missteps throughout his short campaign. In the course of his presidential run, he faced criticism for his controversial “stop and frisk” policy as New York mayor and for past disparaging remarks he made toward women. Rivals also accused him of trying to buy an election.

2020 spending welcome

Bloomberg’s money would still likely be welcomed in battleground districts.

“Are you kidding me?” said one Democratic lawmaker from a swing district, speaking to reporters on condition he not be named, when asked if Bloomberg’s help was still wanted. “We’re rolling out the red carpet. Come on in. There’s a lot of people welcome here.” 

Bloomberg has already donated to down-ballot efforts, but the spending paled in comparison to what he spent on his presidential run, which totaled half a billion. In December, he donated $10 million to House Majority PAC, the super PAC aligned with Pelosi, as vulnerable Democrats  faced a deluge of negative ads knocking them on impeachment.

Bloomberg’s pledge to keep his field organizers on the ground is also potentially welcome news for Democrats in states that lack a robust party infrastructure.

In Oklahoma, for example, the Bloomberg campaign had nearly 20 staffers on the ground, according to a Democratic source in the state.

Vulnerable Utah Rep. Ben McAdams, who endorsed Bloomberg, said the former mayor also had a “decent-sized” staff in the Beehive State, which is unusual for presidential campaigns. Maintaining that infrastructure would be helpful heading into the fall, the freshman congressman said.

“The more people we have reaching out to voters, trying to unify them behind a message and a vision for the future that’s healing the division in our country, that’s better than not,” McAdams said.

From Bloomberg to Biden

Sixteen House Democrats had previously endorsed Bloomberg in the presidential race. Six of them were in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline program for vulnerable members. Only Biden had more endorsements from Frontline members.

Some of Bloomberg’s former backers started to move toward Biden after the former mayor ended his run Wednesday. Rouda said he was still discussing a formal endorsement but added, “It’s pretty safe to say I’ll be on the Biden train here soon.” 

Even as Bloomberg failed epically on election night after spending millions in Super Tuesday states, Democrats in Congress who supported him were still jubilant that Biden’s string of victories appeared to slow Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ march to the nomination.

“We were all high-fiving,” said California Rep. Juan C. Vargas, who had endorsed Bloomberg but is now backing Biden. Vargas estimated he had spoken with 30 other lawmakers Wednesday who were excited about Biden’s prospects.

“We feel like we’re going to win now,” Vargas said. “We’re not going to lose the presidency, we’re not going to lose our majority, and now we’ve got a good shot of taking back the Senate.”

But supporters of Sanders, who had nine congressional endorsements to Biden’s 71 as of Wednesday afternoon, maintain that he will find success in upcoming primary states and also drive out new voters, particularly young voters and people of color. 

California Rep. Ro Khanna, one of Sanders’ campaign co-chairs, told reporters Wednesday that the Vermont senator “has expanded his coalition from ‘16 and the progressive coalition is continuing to grow.”

Stephanie Akin contributed to this report.

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