A stunning jump in popularity is propelling Michael Bloomberg’s hopes to win over skeptical liberal voters and become the next president of the United States.
He’s spent millions of his own fortune on television ads and aired seven times as many commercials as failed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2008 – the previous record holder for most ads aired.
The PR blitz appears to have worked: he’s jumped to 19 per cent popularity rating in a poll of Democrats supporters, up from just 4 per cent in November.
It has allowed Mr Bloomberg to qualify for this week’s Democratic presidential debate in Nevada where five other candidates will join him including former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders.
It will be the first time the former New York mayor takes part in a 2020 election debate, with Mr Bloomberg set to get on the debate stage on Thursday Australian time in the race for the party’s nomination.
He was most appealing to Democratic voters who consider themselves ‘Moderate’, winning a 29 per cent rating amongst those voters in the national poll.
He was also a favourite of voters over the age of 45 and performed well in small towns (24 per cent, just behind Bernie Sanders who was at 28 per cent for rural areas).
Mr Bloomberg has already poured more than a quarter of a billion dollars, mostly on television time, forcing Democratic contender Mr Sanders to step up his political attacks on the media mogul.
Mr Sanders recently accused Mr Bloomberg of trying to buy the election, to which he retaliated by saying the senator and his fervent supporters are hurting the party.
Mr Sanders compared the former New York mayor with Republican President Donald Trump, saying both were billionaires trying to use their wealth to bend a corrupt political system.
“Mr Bloomberg, like anyone else has a right to run for president. He does not have a right to buy the presidency!” Mr Sanders told thousands of supporters at a rally in Richmond, near San Francisco, who booed vehemently at the mention of Mr Bloomberg’s name.
The attacks in California, including criticism of Mr Bloomberg’s record on race, echoed a series of criticisms that Mr Sanders levelled at Mr Bloomberg over the weekend in Nevada and Colorado.
That drew a response on Monday from Mr Bloomberg, who tweeted a video featuring alleged Sanders supporters – his fervent online backers known as “Bernie Bros” – attacking other candidates and their supporters on social media.
— Mike Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) February 17, 2020
It ended with a clip of Mr Sanders calling for “civil discourse”, followed by the question “Really?”
“We need to unite to defeat Trump in November,” Mr Bloomberg said in the tweet. “This type of ‘energy’ is not going to get us there.”
Mr Bloomberg’s campaign said the attacks from Mr Sanders were “shameful” and compared him with Mr Trump for also unfairly criticising Mr Bloomberg.
It said the attacks were a sign of the growing political threat Mr Bloomberg posed.
Mr Bloomberg has risen sharply in recent opinion polls after pouring hundreds of millions of his own dollars into advertising in states that vote in March or later.
Mr Sanders leads polls nationally and in Nevada, where the next nominating contest will be held on Saturday, after strong finishes in the first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“At this point, the primary is Bernie’s to lose, and ours to win. Bernie knows this. Trump knows this. That’s why they are united in the campaign against Mike,” said Kevin Sheekey, campaign manager for Mr Bloomberg.
“This campaign will not sit idly by and allow these false attacks to stand without response,” Mr Sheekey said in a statement.
Mr Bloomberg skipped the four early voting states in February – South Carolina will also vote on February 29.
At the rally in Richmond, Mr Sanders also criticised Mr Bloomberg’s past support in New York of “stop-and-frisk” police policies during his time as mayor that disproportionately hit African Americans.
Mr Bloomberg has apologised for his support of that tactic.
Mr Sanders also said Mr Bloomberg had in the past opposed a minimum wage and had called for cuts to government-run social assistance programs.
“Imagine a multi-billionaire opposing a raise in the minimum wage.
Imagine a multi-billionaire asking for cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” Mr Sanders told the crowd.