RALEIGH — Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited three North Carolina cities on Feb. 13 as his poll numbers and infrastructure grow during the Democratic primary for president.
Justin Vollmer, Bloomberg’s senior adviser in the state, told NSJ in a Feb. 17 phone interview that despite bad weather, events in Winston-Salem, Greensboro and Raleigh were a success.
“For that early in the morning? I was really excited,” Vollmer said. “We had over 700 in Winston-Salem, and that started at roughly 8 a.m. in the morning. An hour or so later, we were in Greensboro, and we had over 500 people. Similar weather conditions, where you literally couldn’t see five feet in front of your face. And then we headed to Raleigh where we had over 700 people there as well. … We got all that done before noon, so it was a good day.”
Bloomberg’s strategy to spend time in N.C. and other Super Tuesday states, which vote on March 3, is based on a conscious decision to look past the first four states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
“We’re focusing on every state March 3 and on. We decided not to be part of the first four,” Vollmer said, saying their two reasons were that caucuses are chaotic and undemocratic, and that the early states “don’t have a good representation of the United States in terms of demographics.”
According to recent polls, Bloomberg is whittling away support from some of the front runners. In Public Policy Polling’s early February poll, Biden had dropped to 25%, Sanders to 16% and Bloomberg, who had been in single digits in the January PPP poll, rose to 14%.
In a SurveyUSA poll released by WRAL only a couple weeks later, on Feb. 18, the Democratic primary in N.C. was a three-way tie, with Sanders and Bloomberg at 22% and Biden within the margin of error at 20%.
With a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll showing his national support at 19%, Bloomberg now qualifies for Democratic debates.
Other candidates attributed Bloomberg’s rise in polling to his aggressive use of his large fortune to buy ads and staff.
“He thinks he can buy this election,” Sanders said at a Carson City, Nevada, rally. “Well, I’ve got news for Mr. Bloomberg — the American people are sick and tired of billionaires buying elections!”
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Biden struck a similar tone, saying of Bloomberg, “$60 billion can buy you a lot of advertising, but it can’t erase your record.”
Vollmer said Bloomberg is running just like any other candidate, but the only difference is that “Mike doesn’t take donations and he never has. He’s never taken a dime in a run for office, and he’s not going to change that now.
“We hear nothing but good things about the spending that we’re doing,” Vollmer said on what he and his North Carolina-based staff hear on the ground. “In general, when it comes to spending, I know Bernie and Joe may have things to say, but voters I don’t think see it that way. You’ve seen our momentum in polls.”
In addition to the media spending, Bloomberg has a growing team of staffers spread throughout the state. The campaign, headquartered in Charlotte, has nine offices from Asheville to Wilmington.
The impact of Bloomberg’s $60 billion is also being called into question on how it impacts his endorsements. Bloomberg Philanthropies, an organization that provides millions of dollars in grants to cities for a number of programs, from climate change to tobacco prevention, has created close ties to mayors across the country. Vollmer said endorsements for Bloomberg, like recent ones from Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and former North Carolina Gov. Bev Purdue, have nothing to do with the money provided to these causes.
“He’s been working on these issues long before he talked about running for president,” Vollmer said. “I can tell you from personal experience, I’ve had conversations with several elected officials across the state, our team definitely has, and not one time has that come up in terms of his philanthropy. New York is not involved in a lot of those conversations at the location level. We do them ourselves, and we haven’t brought that up.”
In late 2018, Bloomberg and Lyles held a press conference together at UNC Charlotte Center City to announce the $2.5 million grant that Bloomberg Philanthropies was providing to Charlotte as one of their cities chosen for the “American Cities Climate Challenge.”
Now that he is gaining more attention, Bloomberg’s past comments and his record as mayor are receiving scrutiny from his Democratic rivals and President Donald Trump. Much of the attention has focused on a policy known as “stop and frisk.” His comments around this, as well as the policy itself, have been criticized for their alleged disparate impact on minority communities.
A 2016 clip of Bloomberg also surfaced of comments he made about farming while at an Oxford University forum. In the videos, pulled from longer comments, Bloomberg is heard to say he could teach anybody to be a farmer. “You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn.” He also said modern jobs take more “gray matter.”
Vollmer said he’d seen the clip but didn’t think it was an insult to farmers in the way it was being portrayed on social media.
“Mike was articulating that, 200 years ago when we were all farming and then fast forward to the industrial revolution, you really needed a lot of bodies to do jobs and those jobs were task-oriented. Now we’re more moving into an information age, where it’s focused on how much information you can collect online. The skill sets are just different,” Vollmer said.
“In general, he was just articulating that the economy is in a different place. So we need someone from the information age, someone that started a company that focused on information, like Bloomberg LP, to make sure that people are trained for jobs of the future and not necessarily jobs that aren’t taking up a lot of space in terms of creation today.”
Beyond farmers, Bloomberg also implied that intelligence was tied to a belief in individual rights.
“We, the intelligentsia, the people who could make it in this room,” Bloomberg said to the Oxford crowd, “we believe in a lot of things in terms of equality and protecting individual rights that make no sense to the vast bulk of people. They’re not opposed to the idea of you having some rights, but there’s a fundamental disconnect between us believing the rights of the individual come first and the general belief around the world, I think it’s fair to say, that the rights of society come first.”