United States faces the battle of the New York billionaires, says DOMINIC MIDGLEY


The last time the media tycoon Michael Bloomberg considered a run for the American presidency, he eventually decided against it because he didn’t think the American people would vote for a New York billionaire. Now that a New York billionaire sits in the White House that objection clearly no longer applies.

And yesterday the 77-year-old was due to file the necessary paperwork to get on the ballot for the Democratic primary election in Alabama on 3 March. His move throws the 2020 presidential race wide open. Until now, Donald Trump’s prospects of a second term were looking pretty unassailable. Former vice-president Joe Biden, the early favourite to win the Democratic nomination, is flagging in the polls and his two main challengers, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, are both campaigning on platforms that may well prove too radical to attract a winning total at the polls.

Things got so bad that there was even talk of Hillary Clinton – the woman who lost to Trump in 2016 – entering the race.

Now Mr Bloomberg has decided it is time for him to come to the aid of the party. 

His spokesman Howard Wolfson said this week: “We now need to finish the job and ensure that Trump is defeated. But Mike is increasingly concerned that the current field of candidates is not well positioned to do that.

“Based on his record of accomplishment, leadership and his ability to bring people together to drive change, Mike would be able to take the fight to Trump and win.”

The son of a book-keeper, Mr Bloomberg was a Wall Street banker before setting up the financial publishing empire that bears his name and is now said to be worth £40billion. 

This makes him nearly 17 times richer than Trump whose fortune is put at £2.4billion.

Originally a Democrat, Mr Bloomberg became a Republican to run for mayor of New York City in 2001.

He started his campaign 25 points behind in the polls but after spending £20million of his own money – more than all the other candidates combined – he emerged the winner.

He was helped in no small part by the endorsement of Rudolph Giuliani, the outgoing mayor who was transformed into a national hero for his handling of a city in crisis in the wake of 9/11.

Once in post, Mr Bloomberg took time to win over New Yorkers. 

He raised taxes and cut costs – never vote-winning policies – and gained a reputation as a killjoy after banning smoking in bars and clubs.

By the middle of his first term, he had been dubbed “Gloomberg” in some quarters but an improving economy, better school results and a falling crime rate helped boost his popularity, and in 2005 he was re-elected.

He went on to serve three terms in all, running for his third term as an independent after quitting the Republican Party. 

He rejoined the Democratic Party only last year.

He is now a fully-fledged progressive with strong views on gun control as well as being an advocate of bold initiatives to fight climate change.

And, as we have seen, he is prepared to put his money where his mouth is. 

Only last week his gun-control advocacy group Everytown For Gun Safety ensured that Democrats romped to victory in state elections in Virginia by pumping $2.5million into their campaign. 

The result was considered particularly sweet because the state is home to the headquarters of the National Rifle Association, America’s most powerful gun lobby organisation.

In 2018 alone, Mr Bloomberg contributed $110million to 24 Democratic congressional candidates, 21 of whom won.

But this figure pales in comparison to the sum Mr Bloomberg is willing to invest in a White House run. 

In February the influential new organisation Politico reported that Bloomberg was prepared to spend $500million to deny President Trump a second term, roughly $175million more than the Trump campaign spent over the course of the entire 2016 election cycle.

Meanwhile, President Trump is under attack from all sides. 

Impeachment proceedings are under way over allegations that he threatened to withhold military aid from the Ukraine unless it agreed to investigate Joe Biden on his behalf.

He has also come under fire for an abrupt decision to pull US troops out of northeastern Syria, which cleared the way for a Turkish invasion against America’s Kurdish allies in the area.

And earlier this week, a New York state judge ordered him to pay $2million to several charities after misusing his own charitable foundation to further his political interests.

But it would be a bold gambler who would bet against Teflon Trump winning again next year. 

After all, while the Republican establishment may be appalled by his populist style it shows no sign of coalescing behind an alternative candidate and, if Mr Bloomberg does succeed in securing the Democratic nomination, he will be vulnerable to accusations that he traded dollars for democracy.

What is not in doubt is that if these two New York billionaires do end up fighting it out for the presidency it will be a true battle of the titans.


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