Bloomberg in Texas, gains Mayor Turner endorsement- What's Your Point?

The What's Your Point panel discusses Michael Bloomberg's campaign efforts in Texas and a potentially critical endorsement from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

WASHINGTON (AP) —  February 14, 2020    Democratic presidential candidates hoping to revive their flagging campaigns increasingly took aim at Mike Bloomberg, blasting their billionaire rival for trying to buy his way into the White House and raising questions about his commitment to racial equality.

Struggling to recover from poor showings in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden took the lead in attacking Bloomberg. Biden, the former vice president, said on ABC’s “The View” that “I don’t think you can buy an election,” while Warren took Bloomberg to task for his 2008 comments that ending redlining, a discriminatory housing practice, helped trigger the economic meltdown.

Biden and billionaire Tom Steyer also joined forces in slamming Bernie Sanders after the Vermont senator and self-described democratic socialist won New Hampshire and essentially tied for the lead in Iowa with Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Biden said Sanders hadn’t done enough to explain how he’d pay for his “Medicare for All” proposal to replace private insurance with a government-run program. Steyer said that “refusal to tell us how he will pay for his plan adds unnecessary financial risk to achieving health care as a right for every person.”

Voters, Steyer said, “should have all the facts.”

The sniping reflects the remarkably fluid state of the Democratic race even after two states that typically winnow presidential fields have already voted. The White House hopefuls are trying to blunt Bloomberg, who gained attention by flooding the national airwaves with hundreds of millions of dollars in advertisements and is on the verge of being admitted into next week’s presidential debate. And the lagging candidates are trying to prove that they still have the mettle to stay in the race, even if their path is becoming increasingly difficult.

Warren told The Associated Press on Thursday that she has raised $6 million since the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses, a haul that could silence questions about whether she will soon leave the campaign because of her disappointing showings so far. She called the race “wide open.” 

“There’s a lot of froth,” she said. “It’s going to be a long process.” 

That’s especially true as moderates are struggling to coalesce around a candidate. Biden has long argued that he’s the most electable, in part because his centrist approach has broad appeal and could make it easier for Democrats to defeat President Donald Trump in the fall. That’s at risk of being undermined by his middling finish in Iowa and New Hampshire. He’s now staking his campaign on success in the Feb. 29 South Carolina primary, which is the first race in a state with a significant black population.

But before then, candidates will face voters in Nevada, which holds its Democratic caucuses on Feb. 22. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, whose moderate presidential campaign surpassed expectations in New Hampshire this week, raced to Nevada after a Senate vote Thursday to try to keep the momentum going.

“The political landscape is littered with people who raised more money than Amy Klobuchar,” said Tom Nides, a former deputy secretary of state and Democratic donor who served as an intern on Capitol Hill with Klobuchar when they were in college. “Her whole campaign strategy has been based on the fact that she’s scrappy. She just grinds it out.”

Klobuchar’s rise is inviting new scrutiny, especially from Buttigieg, hoping to keep her from eating into his support among moderate Democrats.

Buttigieg, a target of Klobuchar’s for weeks over what she has characterized as light experience, Thursday turned his criticism of Washington politics toward the Minnesota senator.

During the LULAC forum, he took aim in a not-so-veiled way at Klobuchar’s 2018 vote in the Senate to confirm Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, who he criticized for “the horrifying conditions that children were kept in.”

“I’ve heard some people say that, you know, my experience is not relevant because you have to have Washington experience in order to become a president. But some of those same voices are among those who voted to confirm Kevin McAleenan as the CBP head,” Buttigieg said. 

Biden received more bad news when Nevada’s most politically powerful union, the casino workers’ Culinary Union, said it wouldn’t endorse any of the candidates before the state’s caucuses. The former vice president warned his supporters on Wednesday that an endorsement was unlikely, but the confirmation of that was still a blow.

“We’ve known Vice President Biden for many years. We know he’s been our friend,” Geoconda Argüello-Kline, the secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union, said at a Thursday afternoon news conference. “We know all of these candidates, and we respect each one of them.” 

Buttigieg, who placed second in New Hampshire, is also expected to make a big play for Nevada. But the state could pose a challenge for him as it’s the first place he’ll have to win over voters of color, something polls have suggested would be difficult.

The result is a muddled middle lane in the primary as Sanders is poised to keep squeaking out victories. On Capitol Hill, Sanders said he thinks “we’re on a path to win the nomination.”

“The key to defeating Trump is to have the largest voter turnout in American history,” he said. “And I think we have the campaign — for a variety of reasons — to do that.”

Backers of more moderate candidates, meanwhile, are beginning to worry. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., expressed concerns that multiple centrist Democrats in the race might stretch out the primary season.

“We have so many in the primary,” said Feinstein, who has backed Biden. “That’s what complicates it all. ... It has to sort itself out.”

Biden said Bloomberg will have to defend his record on the debate stage, and he said he doubted there would be a contested convention.

“The advantage I have is I’ve been vetted and vetted and vetted and vetted again,” he said at a New York fundraiser on Thursday. “They’re just starting on Mike.”

Warren opened her speech before a raucous crowd of more than 4,000 at a high school in Arlington, Virginia, on Thursday hitting Bloomberg over redlining. 

Of the financial meltdown, she said: “That crisis would not have been averted if the banks had been even bigger racists, and anyone who thinks that should not be the leader of our party,” drawing huge cheers and boos for Bloomberg.

As the candidates fight, Bloomberg has tried to appear above the fray, mostly maintaining his focus on the delegate-rich swath of states that vote on March 3. He spent part of Thursday campaigning in North Carolina, where he didn’t respond to any of his Democratic rivals’ attacks.

“We know the Trump strategy — he makes plans look unaffordable and unreasonable and undoable. Well, that’s not going to work against me,” Bloomberg told hundreds in Raleigh.

Campaigning with Bloomberg, Steve Benjamin, the mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, said the candidate is “rapidly ascending” in polls and, “as a result, he’s going to take a whole lot of incoming fire and arrows.” 

Bloomberg did opt to hit back at Trump, who has repeatedly mocked the former mayor in a series of tweets. Bloomberg tweeted in response: “We know many of the same people in NY. Behind your back they laugh at you & call you a carnival barking clown. They know you inherited a fortune & squandered it with stupid deals and incompetence. I have the record & the resources to defeat you. And I will.”

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) —  February 13, 2020  Michael Bloomberg sought to move past newly resurfaced years-old comments in which he defended the controversial “stop-and-frisk” policing tactic that has been found to disproportionately affect minorities.

The billionaire former New York City mayor, who is now seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, launched a two-day tour of the South intended to build relationships with African Americans, who are a crucial voting bloc for the party. During a stop in Chattanooga on Wednesday, he told reporters: “We’re going to do very well in the African American community.”

“They need a good economy, they need better schools, they need more health care, they need jobs and those are the kinds of things that I can bring to the table,” he said.

His trip began the same day that a trio of endorsements was announced from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Georgia Rep. Lucy McBath, a prominent gun control activist.

Bloomberg is testing how voters will respond to his unconventional approach to clinching the Democratic nomination to take on President Donald Trump. While most candidates have focused on the traditional early voting states, Bloomberg has taken his campaign — and his sizable financial resources — into places like Tennessee that vote on Super Tuesday. And although the Democratic contest has barely begun, he’s campaigning with the air of a front-runner, announcing plans on Wednesday to open an office in New Hampshire to keep the state in the Democratic column this fall. 
Democrats in the states that vote on March 3 said they’re awed by the breadth of Bloomberg’s operation and warned that it can’t be discounted. 

“Not only has he spent an enormous amount of money to get on air — more than I’ve ever seen a Democrat spend in Texas, and not just on TV, but on Facebook, social media,” said Texas Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, “but what he’s done is hired a big chunk of the Latino and African American leadership to work for him and bring communities of color together behind his campaign.”

The question facing Bloomberg is whether that strategy will work as the intensity of his campaign grows. The controversy over his 2015 “stop-and-frisk” remarks demonstrated that while Bloomberg has successfully generated attention for his campaign by skipping the early voting states, flooding the airwaves with ads and traveling to multiple states a day, he hasn’t faced the traditional scrutiny that comes with being a presidential candidate. 

Bloomberg hasn’t participated in any of the debates so far, and as he gains traction, rival campaigns are devouring his past work and comments to seize on anything that could hobble him. 

Progressive Democratic strategist Rebecca Katz noted that Bloomberg’s rivals will have a long record to sift through to try to highlight unflattering moments of his career. 

“There’s so much content to be unearthed,” she said. “He was the mayor of New York City for 12 years. That’s a lot of talking.”

Indeed, the comments that resurfaced Tuesday came from a 2015 appearance Bloomberg made at the Aspen Institute. He advocated for putting “a lot of cops where the crime is, which means in minority neighborhoods.” 

Michael Nutter, the former Philadelphia mayor and Bloomberg’s national political chair, decried the former mayor’s 2015 remarks -- but insisted they didn’t match the man he knows today. 

“The language on that tape right there at the end was just insensitive, it was inappropriate and lacking in the kind of empathy and understanding of the human condition that I know Mike Bloomberg has within him,” he said. 

But during that same event, Bloomberg weighed in on inequality in remarks that would seem strikingly out of place in today’s Democratic Party, declaring that he’d “love to get more billionaires coming to New York. Does that give you more inequality? Yes, it does.”

He also likened Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to the United States’ expansion through history, and while he’s backed marijuana legalization since launching his presidential bid, Bloomberg said in the Aspen Institute recording that legalization was “one of the stupider things that’s happened across our country.”

And that’s just one interview. During his time as mayor, Bloomberg also faced controversy after The Associated Press uncovered a widespread New York Police Department surveillance program targeting Muslims, a program he continued to defend after it became public. He’s been a longtime proponent of the expansion of charter schools and a fierce critic of teachers and other public service unions; oversaw an exponential rise in inequality in New York City; and has become known for enacting “nanny-state” policies aimed at regulating public health, like banning large, sugary sodas.

Nutter acknowledged that Bloomberg may face more scrutiny over his record as mayor, but framed it as a byproduct of his strong record of getting things done.

“Executives often have much more of a record that can be analyzed, delved into and critiqued, versus a legislator,” he said.

But Bloomberg’s opponents seized on the 2015 stop-and-frisk comments as one of their first real opportunities to go after the businessman. Billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who is working to attract black voters in South Carolina ahead of that state’s Feb. 29 primary, called the comments “extremely disturbing” and said all the candidates should disavow such “racist stereotypes.” And Nina Turner, a national co-chair for Bernie Sanders’ campaign, said the comments reveal “the true nature” of Bloomberg and called on him to drop out because of them.

Bloomberg has apologized for his oversight of the stop-and-frisk program. But in Tennessee, he refused to directly apologize for the 2015 comments. In response to repeated questions, he said, “I don’t think those words reflect how I led the most diverse city in the nation.”

“I apologized for the practice and the pain that it caused,” he said Wednesday. “It was five years ago. And, you know, it’s just not the way that I think, and it doesn’t reflect what I do every day.”

There wasn’t an immediate sense that the 2015 remarks would hurt his campaign. 

Introducing Bloomberg in Chattanooga, Dr. Elenora Woods, president of the city’s NAACP chapter, said he would be a tireless fighter for economic justice for black Americans.

“Look, I know what racism looks like. I know what it looks like, and that’s not Mike Bloomberg,” she said.

Several African Americans who attended the event said the remarks didn’t disqualify Bloomberg from consideration. 

“That’s not going to stop me from voting for him,” said Jenny Gaines, a 58-year-old who owns a tech company, adding that no candidate is perfect. “I know he has teamed up with former President Obama,” she added. 

Bloomberg has started running a TV ad with Obama speaking favorably of him.

Tracy Arnold, a 61-year-old former police office, said he’s willing to cut Bloomberg a break on his past record because he believes that people can change their opinions as they learn more about the black experience. 

“Perhaps at that time, (Bloomberg) thought stop and frisk would work, and he maybe had good intentions at the time, but like a lot of things, though, your victims end up being majority-minority,” Arnold said. “I need to know a little bit more of what that meant and what his plan was.”