Arick Wierson, who writes frequently for Bioreports Opinion, is an Emmy Award-winning television producer and former senior media adviser to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He advises clients on communications strategies in the US, Africa and Latin America. Follow him on Twitter @ArickWierson. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at Bioreports.
(Bioreports)Operating from the sidelines using his near-bottomless war chest and political savvy, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg could become more powerful than he had been as a billionaire, elected official or presidential candidate. Bloomberg’s announcement that he is stepping in to help former Vice President Joe Biden win Florida came as welcome news to many Democrats who had been left wondering when — or even if — the former mayor would make good on the promises he had made to help beat Trump, no matter the cost.
On Sunday, The Washington Post revealed that Bloomberg, who made a brief run for the Democratic nomination himself earlier this year, will spend at least $100 million of his own fortune to support Biden’s campaign in Florida, mainly through television ad buys. By injecting such an enormous amount of financial resources into the Sunshine State so close to the election, Bloomberg has the potential ability to single-handedly determine the outcome of the 2020 election and alter the course of American history.
Bloomberg’s investment in Florida is key because of its weight in the electoral college. Florida, now Donald Trump’s home state after transferring his residency from New York last year, figures heavily in both the Biden and Trump camps’ calculus for winning the November election. If Biden were to secure the state’s 29 electoral votes, Trump’s pathway to winning another term could become nearly impossible, given a battery of recent polls in so-called “swing states” favoring Biden.
Moreover, in the arc of Republican national politics, it has been nearly a century since a Republican has won the presidency without winning Florida.
In six of the last seven presidential races, Florida has been decided by less than five percentage points, and recent polling in Florida has Biden and Trump in a dead heat. The race will likely stay very close until Election Day, giving even more significance to Bloomberg’s unprecedented investment.
Importantly, Bloomberg’s TV and online ads don’t even need to reach all of the state’s voters — just a few key pockets of votes among the state’s more than 3.5 million registered voters without any party affiliation — a group that has grown by nearly 20% since 2016.
Florida has 10 major media markets, making it the most expensive of all the swing states. That’s one reason why campaigns often shy away from heavy investment in the state — despite its prodigious electoral bounty (Florida has the fourth largest number of electoral votes in the country at 29).
But Bloomberg’s money puts Biden in play in every possible demographic where votes can be harvested. And if the President’s Twitter feed is any indication, the Trump campaign is already plenty worried, with Trump himself tweeting that “I thought Mini Mike was through with Democrat politics after spending almost 2 Billion Dollars, and then giving the worst and most inept Debate Performance in the history of Presidential Politics.”
Bloomberg’s media buys could help boost Biden’s sagging poll numbers with Florida’s enormous population of Latino voters, a nuanced group who can’t be reached in full by simply running ads in Spanish. But Bloomberg’s political technology apparatus, a company he financed called Hawkfish, builds data and tech infrastructure for Democratic candidates and will likely give him the ability to, for example, micro-target at scale small pockets of millennial Nicaraguan Americans, Black Panamanians, and first-generation Ecuadorians, and many other niche demographic across Florida with laserlike precision. These ads can appeal to them with the messages they find most compelling, and importantly, those messages worth turning out to vote for.
And that’s why Bloomberg’s nine-figure investment is so key. It’s more than just a stack of cash he is doling out; it’s what investors like to call smart money. Unlike other political benefactors who can also write very large checks (although very few as large as his), Bloomberg has a skilled and experienced political technology apparatus to lean on that enables him to effectively deploy his capital for maximum impact, targeting on the fence 2016 Trump voters, undecideds and independents. These are groups he and his team already know very well, given that at various points during his political career, Bloomberg was a Republican and later an Independent before returning to the Democratic Party.
Trump — who often uses a shiny object strategy to distract the voting public from his failures — now must contend with a very real $100 million-dollar distraction of his own. At a minimum, Bloomberg’s focus on Florida will force his campaign to funnel many more resources towards defending the state than it had originally planned, opening up its flanks in other key swing states. There is another scenario in which, even if Trump is able to eke out a win in Florida — despite Bloomberg’s investments — he goes on to lose the general election because of all the resources Bloomberg’s Florida effort drained from the Trump campaign’s efforts in other states.
Earlier this year, just after Bloomberg announced that he would be making a run for the Democratic nomination, Kevin Sheekey, the former mayor’s longtime political adviser, said “Mike Bloomberg is either going to be the nominee or the most important person supporting the Democratic nominee for president.” We now know it’s the latter.