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NEWS ANALYSIS

Huge barriers to Bloomberg's Democratic nomination bid

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Mr Bloomberg says he would offer a pragmatic option to voters in a campaign to unseat a president who 'represents an existential threat to our country and our values'.

New York

MICHAEL Bloomberg announced on Sunday that he would run for the US presidency in 2020, bringing his enormous wealth and eclectic political biography into the tumultuous Democratic primary and seeking to win over sceptical liberal voters by presenting himself as a multi-billion-dollar threat to US President Donald Trump.

Mr Bloomberg, a former Republican who has expressed reservations about his adopted party's leftward drift, said in a statement that he would offer a pragmatic option to voters in a campaign to unseat a president who "represents an existential threat to our country and our values". "Defeating Donald Trump - and rebuilding America - is the most urgent and important fight of our lives. And I'm going all in," he said. "I offer myself as a doer and a problem solver - not a talker. And someone who is ready to take on the tough fights - and win."

His late entry into the race has already roiled an unsettled Democratic primary field. He has startled rival campaigns in recent days by reserving almost US$35 million in airtime for television commercials outlining his biography and political agenda, a figure that dwarfs other campaigns' advertising budgets. On a website that went live on Sunday, Mr Bloomberg embraced his status as a surprise contender, branding himself as "a new choice for Democrats".

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The 77-year-old faces immense obstacles to winning the Democratic nomination, starting with his own political baggage that includes a complex array of business entanglements, a history of making demeaning comments about women and a record of championing law enforcement policies that disproportionately targeted black and Latino men with invasive searches.

His long-delayed start in the race will leave him scrambling to catch up with some of the other candidates in building a national profile and constructing a large-scale campaign organisation. As a result, he plans to mount an unconventional primary campaign, bypassing the earliest primary and caucus states, like Iowa and New Hampshire in February, and focusing instead on the delegate-rich March primaries in states such as California and Texas.

His extraordinary wealth, estimated at more than US$50 billion, could, on its own, represent a political challenge. It is likely to intensify the already-raging Democratic debate about whether and how to rein in the power of the extremely rich.

Senator Bernie Sanders accused Mr Bloomberg of "trying to buy an election" with his onslaught of television commercials, and on Sunday in New Hampshire, he said: "Multibillionaires like Mr Bloomberg are not going to get very far in this election." Perhaps to blunt that criticism, Mr Bloomberg's announcement video and opening advertisement included a call for the wealthy to pay more in taxes.

His candidacy has the potential to reshape the primary in a number of ways, perhaps most immediately by shaking up the contest to lead the Democratic Party's moderate wing.

Former US vice-president Joe Biden and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of Indiana, have emerged as the leading primary candidates closer to the political centre. Mr Biden remains the overall front-runner for the nomination. But both men have serious political vulnerabilities and neither has Mr Bloomberg's financial resources.

Much like Mr Biden, Mr Bloomberg is wagering that Democratic voters will care far more about defeating Mr Trump than any other political or ideological consideration.

Mr Bloomberg's message, at the start, is leaning heavily into his biography as a business executive and as the mayor of New York City starting in the aftermath of the Sept 11 terror attacks in 2001.

His advisers acknowledge that he is far less known to voters than the leading Democratic candidates. His debut television commercial stressed his credentials as a self-made executive - "a middle-class kid who made good" - and his political advocacy on core Democratic concerns like gun control and climate change, as well as on economic development and public health issues like smoking. Those issues, his advisers say, are central to his candidacy.

While Mr Bloomberg is a political moderate, his opening message also borrowed in some respects from the anti-Washington rhetoric of the Democratic Party's populist wing, led by progressives like Mr Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. "I know how to take on the powerful special interests that corrupt Washington," Mr Bloomberg said in his statement. "And I know how to win."

His successor in City Hall, Bill de Blasio, predicted that Mr Bloomberg would have a "glass jaw" in the Democratic race once his record drew sustained scrutiny. Much of Mr Bloomberg's background would be "anathema to the Democratic Party electorate", Mr de Blasio said, pointing to Mr Bloomberg's opposition to a paid sick-leave law and the former administration's relationship with the real estate industry.

At the moment, Mr Bloomberg appears chiefly concerned with introducing himself to a national electorate that knows relatively little about him.

Howard Wolfson, one of Mr Bloomberg's closest advisers, said in an interview that "awareness of Mike is considerably less than other candidates", and his campaign intended to remedy that with dispatch. He said that Mr Bloomberg would spend freely from his fortune and would not accept campaign contributions.

That means there is little chance that Mr Bloomberg will participate in Democratic primary debates, since candidates have to accumulate a sizeable number of individual campaign donors in order to qualify.

"Mike is going to spend whatever is necessary to defeat Donald Trump, because he believes the stakes couldn't be higher," Mr Wolfson said.

Mr Bloomberg, who was elected mayor in 2001 as a Republican, repeatedly explored running for president as an independent candidate but eventually concluded that a candidate from outside the two-party system could not win.

After registering as an independent in 2007, during his second term as mayor, he again embraced the GOP in 2009 when he persuaded the New York City Council to give him an exception to the city's term-limits law and allow him to seek a third term, which expired in 2013.

Mr Trump's rise to power, however, helped push Mr Bloomberg fully into the Democratic fold.

Mr Bloomberg spoke at the Democratic convention in 2016 to endorse Hillary Clinton, then formally registered as a Democrat during the 2018 midterm elections and spent more than US$100 million that year to help Democrats take control of the House of Representatives.

Although Mr Bloomberg ruled out challenging Mr Trump last winter, in recent months he began to reconsider as Mr Biden struggled to take control of the Democratic primary.

At 77, Mr Bloomberg is one of the oldest candidates in the race, and like Mr Biden and Mr Sanders he would become the oldest person ever to assume the presidency if elected.

Mr Bloomberg is also, with Mr Sanders, one of two major candidates for the nomination who are Jewish, and either would be the first Jewish president if elected.

Should Mr Bloomberg become the Democratic nominee, it would set up a general election between two party-switching moguls from New York City, though Mr Bloomberg's fortune is larger than Mr Trump's many times over. NYTIMES