Rides now into California billionaire Michael Bloomberg with his saddlebags overflowing with dollars as he tries to buy the California primary. Many other billionaires have failed at buying elections; the more money Meg Whitman spent trying to buy the governorship in 2010, the worst she did. But this time it could be different.
For one thing, Bloomberg plans to concentrate on organization with a grassroots effort to find sympathetic voters, not just run television ads. Second, California is so large and confusing that none of the other candidates are likely to make a similar effort here. And finally he does have a record of government service unlike past billionaire candidates.
But whether Bloomberg is viable, or whether the California primary itself is viable, depends on what happens in other states. Sadly, Iowa and New Hampshire do indeed seem to select our presidential nominees. The 2004 Democratic race was over when John Kerry won his upset Iowa victory.
Right now polling in Iowa is all over the place, but traditionally there are only three tickets out of Iowa, so if Joe Biden runs first or even a close second, he might close out the race then and there. New Hampshire is likely to be less important this year with two New England candidates.
But if Biden does stumble, the non-socialist wing of the Democratic Party will be in a panic, and they could be desperate for what Bloomberg’s saddlebags can bring.
In the run up to Super Tuesday, March 3, with 14 Democratic primaries, we have South Carolina where 60 percent of the Democratic electorate is black, and where Biden is far ahead today. Super Tuesday states include Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee where the Democratic electorate is heavily African American. Texas and Colorado have large Latino electorates, and California has a little bit of everything.
So the Super Tuesday Democratic electorate is likely to be open to economic populism and lunch pail issues, not much concerned with transgender bathrooms and not at all concerned whether rich white kids get free college tuition. It is an electorate made for a Biden or a Sanders; much less for a Warren or a Buttigieg.
This is also not an electorate particularly favorable to a New York billionaire; it is hard to see how he appeals to Latinos in south Texas or blacks in Montgomery. The later east coast and industrial state primaries are a better fit.
So California is crucial for Bloomberg if he is to become a viable candidate as an alternative say to Warren or Sanders. Since President Trump has no chance of carrying California in the fall, California’s opportunity to shape the next presidency will depend on it becoming a major player on Super Tuesday.
It has failed in every attempt since 1996 when we shifted our presidential primary from June to late winter. Candidates have found California too big and too expensive, why blow $10 million here to bump yourself from 30 percent to 32 percent? And the Democratic Party’s delegate rules are all but incomprehensible, with delegates spread among the 53 congressional districts based on fractions of the vote.
These complexities work to Bloomberg’s advantage because he can hire enough people to work this complex system. As an example, California has nearly nine million registered Democrats, all of when will receive a Democratic ballot. But it also has 5.4 million No Party Preference voters. These voters can cast a Democratic presidential ballot, but they have to ask for a Democratic ballot. Most don’t know this and thus don’t bother voting in primaries.
Just to give you an idea how larger this voter block is, our NPP voter roll is greater than the entire population of Iowa and New Hampshire combined! NPP voters tend to be younger voters with a high percentage of Asian voters; Bloomberg’s work on gun violence and climate change could have an appeal to them.
So if Bloomberg can organize outreach to these voters, he could vote harvest them the same way Democrats did with vote by mail ballots in 2018. To do this would cost millions and require an army of paid workers going door to door to contact and educate NPP voters, who otherwise are unlikely to be contacted by any campaign.
Then there is another factor. California Democrats are the most anti-Trump voters of any large state. They have had great success at winning at the state level but no influence nationally – Hillary Clinton wasted millions of votes carrying California in 2016 while losing nationally. I doubt California Democrats think an elderly socialist or an elitist college professor is going to defeat the Trump juggernaut, so they just might be open to a guy like Bloomberg whom many observers think would be Trump’s toughest opponent.
That would be street fighter against street fighter, New York nasty against New York nasty. If the nomination is still wide open by the time California votes, Bloomberg just might be able to show that he’s the one to take on Trump, and find real support in this land of Trump derangement.