Bloomberg's bet on Michigan | Michigan Radio
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Bloomberg's bet on Michigan

Mar 3, 2020

While some of the biggest names in the race to become the democratic presidential nominee dropped out ahead of Super Tuesday, one candidate’s big gamble doesn’t start until today.

Mike Bloomberg has spent a huge amount of money in Michigan ahead of the state’s primary next week, and he’s hoping the payoff could be a share of the state’s 147 delegates.

It’s overcast and snow is on the horizon in Saginaw, Michigan—one of the twelve counties in the state that voted twice for President Obama and then for President Trump.

Kellie Green is out canvassing for Mike Bloomberg.

“She may be in Florida for the winter,” she says steeling herself for another unanswered knock. But Elizabeth Krajkowski is home and headed to the door.

“Hi, how are you? ‘Good!’ My name is Kellie. I work for the Mike Bloomberg Campaign, how are you doing today?” Green asks.

Krajkowski is an older woman with gray hair and hearing aids, who says she’s considering Bloomberg.

“I’ve heard all the commercials and I’ve seen ‘em all on TV. So, I’ve seen a lot of them,” says Krajkowski.

The Bloomberg playbook

Mike Bloomberg has monopolized ad time in Michigan. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network he’s spent almost $12 million. That’s more than both Republican and Democratic candidates spent in the run up to the primary in 2016.

Antha Williams is a senior advisor to the Bloomberg campaign. She said that’s no accident.

“We’re making really big investments in the places where, frankly, no one has been campaigning other than Donald Trump,” said Williams.

The Bloomberg campaign opened up 10 offices across the state, stepping out of the metro Detroit bubble to places like Saginaw, Traverse City, and Kalamazoo. It has the biggest footprint of any Democratic campaign with over 100 paid staffers.

Dave Adams is a teacher who’s been a longtime member of the Saginaw County Democrats. He said he’s never seen an office this early in Saginaw.

“I actually don’t think I remember a presidential candidate have their own office…ever,” said Adams.

That infrastructure is part of the bet Bloomberg is placing on Michigan in order to have a shot at winning the state’s primary.

Maurice Patterson is one of Bloomberg’s regional field directors. The retired firefighter has lived in Saginaw all of his life, and now he’s hitting the pavement for Bloomberg. He knocks on a door and finds it’s one of his old friends, MT Thompson.

“I’m watching him," says Thompson.

"You leaning? You leaning towards him?" asks Patterson.

"I’ll say only because I don’t think Bernie can win,” says Thompson.

The moderate path?

Saginaw has lost tens of thousands of people in the last decade. Schools have closed and crime went up.

“People go to college, they don’t come back. There’s not a lot of jobs here anymore, like it used to be. We used to be a General Motors plant city. We had nine general motors plants. Now we have one. All those jobs—that’s 30,000 jobs—are gone,” said Patterson.

But, in the past four years, the city has seen a number of reinvestments. Patterson says people have started to move back downtown.

That improvement is part of what could be making local Democrats nervous a progressive Democrat couldn’t beat Trump. Patterson says, he thinks only a moderate can oust the president.

Yet Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders did win the state’s 2016 primary.

Garrett Arwa, is a former executive director of the Michigan Democratic Party. He led Democratic campaigns in the state during the Obama years. Arwa said he’s skeptical that Bloomberg’s unprecedented bet on Michigan will pay off.

“Bernie Sanders by virtue of the infrastructure from the last time he ran probably is in the driver’s seat to some extent in Michigan, or at least considered the favorite. I just find it very hard to believe that unless Bloomberg proves that he can win delegates, will win Michigan,” said Arwa.

If Bloomberg doesn’t do well on Super Tuesday, his path to winning Michigan delegates next week could narrow to a bottleneck, even with a massive campaign footprint.