Michael Bloomberg Quits Democratic Race, Ending a Brief and Costly Bid

Michael Bloomberg Quits Democratic Race, Ending a Brief and Costly Bid

Michael R. Bloomberg ended his campaign for president and endorsed former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Wednesday, concluding that his own path to the Democratic nomination had evaporated after he spent hundreds of millions of dollars and won no states on Super Tuesday.

After courting moderate voters across the map and briefly rising to a prominent place in national polls, Mr. Bloomberg’s candidacy unraveled in just a few weeks: His numbers plunged after a debilitating clash with Senator Elizabeth Warren in a debate last month, and much of his support appeared to flee to Mr. Biden over the past few days.

Mr. Bloomberg, who was elected mayor of New York City as a Republican before becoming one of the Democratic Party’s biggest financial backers, is said to be weighing his plans to spend heavily for Mr. Biden and other Democrats in the 2020 general election.

According to a person briefed on his deliberations, Mr. Bloomberg reached the decision to withdraw from the race on Wednesday morning, after meeting with his inner circle of advisers at the Upper East Side townhouse that is the headquarters of his political and philanthropic empire — several miles away from the Times Square campaign office where in just a few months he assembled an enormous team of aides in a late-starting bid for the presidency.

But the likelihood that he would exit the race was already apparent on Tuesday night, as election returns showed Mr. Bloomberg falling into third place or worse in states he had once hoped to win outright. He carried only one contest, in American Samoa.

Mr. Bloomberg’s aides told political allies late on Tuesday that he would reassess his candidacy in the morning, and acknowledged that the picture emerging from the March 3 primaries was not an encouraging one. They began informing some of his top supporters of his intention on Wednesday morning.

Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Biden spoke by phone on Wednesday morning, a person briefed on the call said. Shortly after Mr. Bloomberg announced his exit, Mr. Biden posted an appreciative tweet saying he would be counting on Mr. Bloomberg’s help to defeat Mr. Trump.

While Mr. Bloomberg’s departure from the race was meant to help unite the moderate wing of the Democratic Party behind Mr. Biden, it also had the potential to enrage supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, who have long regarded Mr. Bloomberg as a malignant force in the 2020 campaign.

As a candidate, Mr. Bloomberg had argued against the danger of not just the re-election of President Trump but also the nomination of Mr. Sanders, whom Mr. Bloomberg criticized as an unelectable candidate with unrealistic or bad ideas. Mr. Sanders in turn branded Mr. Bloomberg as an avatar of the oligarch class that his campaign is trying to bring to heel.

Mr. Bloomberg’s endorsement of Mr. Biden is unsurprising in most respects: the two moderates have enjoyed a cordial relationship over the years, and when Mr. Bloomberg initially passed on a presidential campaign last year, his advisers said it was because he had judged Mr. Biden as too strong for Mr. Bloomberg to overcome.

But Mr. Bloomberg reversed course last fall, after watching Mr. Biden’s public struggles in the race and conducting private polling that convinced him that there was a new opening for him. His decision to enter the primary stunned and angered Mr. Biden’s campaign, and at times over the past few months their rivalry has grown sharply personal.

Yet Mr. Biden may be disinclined to hold a grudge: Mr. Bloomberg has vowed to mount a heavily funded outside-spending effort for the eventual Democratic nominee, and his endorsement Wednesday made plain that he sees Mr. Biden as the worthiest recipient of that largess.

Mr. Bloomberg’s candidacy was unprecedented in its financial firepower, amounting to a no-expenses-spared effort to take control of a presidential race. His Democratic rivals accused him of seeking to buy the presidency, and Mr. Bloomberg often came close to embracing that idea: In his speeches, he frequently made allusions to his vast personal fortune and presented himself to Democratic voters as the candidate with “the record and the resources” to win the general election.

The bid cost Mr. Bloomberg more than half a billion dollars in advertising alone. He also spent lavishly on robust on-the-ground operations, with more than 200 field offices across the country and thousands of paid staff. His operation dwarfed those of Democratic rivals who ultimately won states in which he had installed many dozens of employees and spent heavily on radio, television and direct mail ads.

But Mr. Bloomberg never escaped a set of serious political vulnerabilities that his advisers identified from the outset, including his long record of supporting stop-and-frisk policing and numerous accusations made by women about harassment and gender-based discrimination by Mr. Bloomberg and his company.

Both issues came to the fore in the Las Vegas debate that signaled the beginning of Mr. Bloomberg’s downfall, as Ms. Warren left him reeling with a barrage of criticism about his conduct toward women. Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders, too, harried Mr. Bloomberg for his policing strategies in New York, questioning his sensitivities on matters of race in a manner Mr. Bloomberg defended only stiffly.

Mr. Bloomberg spent Super Tuesday in Florida, which will hold its primary on March 17. He acknowledged there that he might not win any states that day and that his only path to the nomination could be through a contested convention.

“I don’t think I can win any other way,” he said at his campaign office in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. He was irked by repeated questions about how long he would stay in the race, and whether doing so would benefit Mr. Sanders at the expense of Mr. Biden.

“Joe’s taking votes away from me,” Mr. Bloomberg said, insisting that he had no plans to drop out. “Have you asked Joe whether he’s going to drop out?”

He visited Orlando, where he opened a campaign office and commemorated the victims of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting. Then, in what would be his final campaign event, he rallied supporters on Tuesday night in West Palm Beach, promising to compete in upcoming battleground states.

“This is a campaign for change — a campaign for sanity, for honesty, a campaign for inclusion, compassion, for competence, and a campaign for human decency,” he said. “And this is a campaign to bring our country back together and put the ‘United’ back in the United States of America.”

Even as he took himself out of the running, Mr. Bloomberg is likely to remain influential in the 2020 presidential election, having pledged to continue to pour resources into the Democratic effort to unseat Mr. Trump and deploy his main field offices in support of the nominee.

He had pitched himself to voters as “the un-Trump,” often describing himself as “a sane, competent person,” while acknowledging what he called “the elephant in the room” — that a Bloomberg-Trump general election would feature “two New York billionaires” who have played golf together in the past.

Along the way, he became a favorite target of Mr. Trump’s on Twitter, with the president posting about Mr. Bloomberg more than 20 times since he entered the race. “Only his highly paid consultants, who are laughing all the way to the bank, still support him,” Mr. Trump wrote this week.

Mr. Bloomberg deployed his wealth to assemble an enormous campaign team of over 2,400 staff members spread across hundreds of offices. He concentrated more than 100 of those offices in Super Tuesday states, where his infrastructure quickly exceeded that of his opponents. For instance, in Ms. Warren’s home state of Massachusetts — where Mr. Bloomberg himself grew up — he established six field offices across the state, four more than Ms. Warren and five more than Mr. Biden, who ultimately won there.

But the very things Mr. Bloomberg called competitive advantages to his candidacy — his moderate politics and dual identity with both sides of the aisle — were also liabilities to his Democratic bid.

Some Democrats attacked his former affiliation with the Republican Party, noting he had won election in New York City on the party’s ticket twice. Ms. Warren in particular took sharp aim at him — denouncing his history of demeaning comments about women, calling on him to release former employees from nondisclosure agreements, and criticizing his past support of Republican candidates like former Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, whom Ms. Warren unseated in a tight race in 2012.

Defending his record, Mr. Bloomberg repeatedly invoked his extensive philanthropic support of liberal causes and his support of Democratic candidates. And he argued that his fortune freed him to focus on issues rather than the horse-trading that can accompany fund-raising, and that his campaign was not beholden to anyone.

“I’m not going to try to be somebody that I’m not,” he said this week before he dropped out of the race. “I can beat Donald Trump, and I don’t know that any of the others can.”

Patricia Mazzei contributed reporting from Miami and West Palm Beach, Fla., and Jeremy W. Peters from New York.

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