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Mike Bloomberg couldn’t buy his way in

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From left, Democratic presidential candidates, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, in Las Vegas, hosted by NBC News and MSNBC.
From left, Democratic presidential candidates, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, in Las Vegas, hosted by NBC News and MSNBC.
John Locher | AP photo
Posted

If dollars really buy votes, the smoldering wreckage of Mike Bloomberg’s campaign shows that the exchange rate is plummeting.

Bloomberg ended his presidential bid after a lackluster Super Tuesday showing. The billionaire media mogul and former New York City mayor sank more than $500 million of his own money into an ill-fated effort to leapfrog a crowded field of candidates.

Fellow billionaire Tom Steyer poured more than $270 million into his own campaign coffers. He withdrew from the race as his polling numbers and vote totals remained in the cellar.

Joe Biden, the former vice president and new Democratic Party front-runner, swept 10 of the 14 Super Tuesday primaries despite having raised a comparatively paltry $76.2 million in the 2020 election cycle.

Progressive populist Sen. Bernie Sanders, who claimed victories in California, Colorado, Vermont and Utah and trails Biden by just 65 delegates, has raised more than $134 million.

The Wall Street Journal headline says it all: “Bloomberg’s Massive Super Tuesday Spending Doesn’t Pay Dividends.”

And all those small-dollar donations Sanders touts couldn’t make his brand of democratic socialism palatable to most moderate Democrats who yearn for restoration, not revolution.

Cash can boost a candidate’s signal, but it can’t adjust the message. Bloomberg’s abysmal performance in a pair of debates, his aloofness and his lack of cohesive policy goals turned voters off. Despite slick ads that saturated the airwaves and bombarded YouTube viewers, he’s best known as the stop-and-frisk mayor, or perhaps as the architect of New York’s nanny-state Big Gulp ban.

Pundits say Bloomberg can still play a pivotal role as the power behind the throne — he endorsed Biden and pledged to keep spending his formidable fortune to back the eventual Democratic nominee.

“I entered the race for president to defeat Donald Trump, and today, I am leaving the race for the same reason: to defeat Donald Trump,” Bloomberg said.

With only token opposition from Bill Weld, a former Massachusetts governor and the 2016 Libertarian vice presidential candidate, and conservative radio host Joe Walsh, who dropped out in early February, President Trump has amassed a $253 million war chest.

Boasting a net worth of $61 billion, Bloomberg could pump hundreds of millions into Democratic super PACs and give Trump a real run for his money. But he may see diminishing returns.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton outraised Trump by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. Clinton and super PACs that supported her raised almost $1.2 billion, while Trump and his super PACs collected $646.8 million.

Trump hardly needed to advertise when cable networks were airing his rallies in their entirety, dissecting every public statement and trotting out political hacks and eggheads for hire to comment on his insurgent campaign.

It boiled down to earned media — the publicity a candidate receives through news coverage. Clinton was a conventional politician, predictably wonkish, while Trump was reality TV royalty with controversial quips and Twitter tantrums made for irresistible cable news fodder.

After a long flirtation with Bernie, loving and leaving Sen. Elizabeth Warren and outgrowing a short-lived crush on former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the cameras now only have eyes for Joe.

When Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar suspended their campaigns and threw their support behind Biden, Brian Stelter of CNN Business called the resulting rush of coverage an “earned media tsunami.” The 77-year-old is a bona fide TV star — at least for the moment.

Prodigious fundraising alone isn’t enough to make an upstart candidate competitive. In 2007, Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul shattered single-day fundraising records with his “moneybomb” hauls, but his poll numbers remained stubbornly low.

If the nominee with the biggest bank account doesn’t win in November, it may be time to reassess the conventional wisdom about money’s role in politics.

Could a President Biden still credibly call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United if Republicans outspend him and he’s swept into office anyway? Would Democrats see their appetite for campaign finance reform shrink if they haul in more cash than Trump and their candidate still falls short?

Bloomberg’s frenetic spending spree and Super Tuesday collapse tell us it’s not all about the Benjamins. Ballots are the only currency that counts.

Corey Friedman is editor of The Wilson Times. In this weekly column for Creators Syndicate, he explores solutions to political conflicts from an independent perspective. Follow him on Twitter @coreywrites. To read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

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