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For Mike Bloomberg Campaign, The 1st Actual Test Before Voters

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg has spent half a billion dollars - yes, that is billion with a B - in the 2020 presidential race. Tonight he gets to see if it's paying off. It's the first primary day where his name is on the ballot. NPR's Susan Davis is with the Bloomberg campaign in West Palm Beach, Fla. That is where the mayor is planning to rally supporters as results come in tonight.

Hey there, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: So is this make or break? How significant is Super Tuesday to Bloomberg's bid for the presidency?

DAVIS: Well, it's going to - it's testing a theory that has never worked before. Mike Bloomberg skipped all four early state contests in favor of a national campaign strategy, so he's essentially been campaigning in states the Democrats don't often travel to, certainly in the South - places like Oklahoma, Arkansas - betting that he can compete in some combination of the 14 states today. So if he walks out of Super Tuesday not a winner in any of those states, it's going to be a little bit harder to justify that national campaign strategy.

KELLY: Now, I will note that Florida, where you are, where Bloomberg is - this is not one of the 14 states holding its primary today. They vote on March 17. So he's clearly looking ahead. How realistic a path does he see to the nomination?

DAVIS: We were on a campaign swing through Florida today, and he was asked this question. And he was pretty candid in acknowledging that he really doesn't have a direct path to the nomination. He acknowledged he might not win any states, but he said it's all about delegate math. And then a reporter asked him if he was working towards a contested convention, and this is what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE BLOOMBERG: Well, I don't think that I can win any other ways, but contested convention is a democratic process.

DAVIS: Pretty much saying right there, Mary Louise...

KELLY: Yeah.

DAVIS: ...That he doesn't have the ability to win the nomination unless it's taken to the convention floor.

KELLY: And in terms of platform, in terms of message, how is he working to distinguish himself from the rest of the field?

DAVIS: One thing that I've - you know, I spent about the past week on the road with him, and one thing that I was struck by is that people really do remember Bloomberg from the days after 9/11. He was elected after 9/11 but took office just months later, and he's really tried to build on this idea that he's a steady hand in times of crisis. I've seen a lot of politicians out on the campaign trail. He's not the most charismatic, but he also sort of leans into that, sort of promising to be a low-key personality in the White House. He gets big applause when he says he promises he will never send a tweet from the Oval Office.

And he also gets a lot of credit from Democrats. And, you know, Mike Bloomberg, he's been a Republican. He's been an independent. Now he's a Democrat. But he does get a lot of credit from Democrats for how he has spent his money and the work he's done to change gun laws. And today he appeared with the parents of someone who was killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and I talked to his mother. Her name's Maria Jose Wright, and she's supporting Bloomberg. And this is what she told me.

MARIA JOSE WRIGHT: Before it was fashionable, before it was even acceptable, he was trying to do something about gun violence. And he's the one that has not just talked about it but has really, for a long time, been trying to do something about it.

DAVIS: This is one voter who clearly has an emotional connection with Bloomberg, but, you know, you don't necessarily hear that a lot. And one thing we're trying to look for and see tonight is, does he have that kind of enthusiasm from voters that you really need to win a race like this?

KELLY: Can we just circle back for a sec to the money, to the - I mentioned the half a billion with a B dollars that he spent on this campaign. How does he talk about that and just how big a wager he is placing?

DAVIS: It's, like, an unfathomable amount of money. No one has even come close to spending that amount of their resources. By comparison, Donald Trump spent about $60 million of his own money in 2016. He does joke about it a lot on the campaign. His campaign slogan is Mike will get it done. And he has this line that says, if you haven't heard it by now, then I've wasted an awful lot of money based on his national ad campaign. So we'll see soon enough tonight on how much it got him.

KELLY: All righty (ph). Thank you, Susan.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

KELLY: NPR's Susan Davis in Florida with the Bloomberg campaign, one of the multiple campaigns we're checking in with all this Super Tuesday evening. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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