With a current international spotlight on COVID-19 news and not much else, it may be easy to forget that the United States remains in the thick of the 2020 presidential race. A few months ago, I likely would not have classified news surrounding what has been such a contested, polarizing race as uplifting. Considering current circumstances, though, allow me to give you some of the best political news you may have heard in a while: billionaire Mike Bloomberg, the largest self-spending candidate in U.S. history, is out of the race.
Take a breath! Before you think this is a partisan statement—or one based on my personal view of Bloomberg’s platform at all—let me assure you that it’s not. Rather, the fact that Mike Bloomberg ended his presidential bid following bitter Super Tuesday disappointment should reassure Americans of all political affiliations that, despite any and all flaws of the U.S. election system, one cannot simply buy the presidency.
Compared to other Democratic primary candidates, Bloomberg kicked off his campaign late, only announcing his candidacy in late November 2019 and continuing the slow start by remaining off the official ballot for the first four primary states—Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. He instead focused his efforts on Super Tuesday, a major election day in the primary election when most states hold their primaries or caucuses, which fell on Mar. 3 this year. In fact, he did not even mount a debate stage until Feb. 19, less than 2 weeks before the fateful Super Tuesday.
Bloomberg’s campaign strategy was never up for debate. He aimed for, and accomplished, the outspending of every other candidate in advertising. Living in Texas, a Super Tuesday state, you likely saw and heard the results of his spending yourself. In the weeks and days approaching Mar. 3, Bloomberg’s ad blitz kicked into an even higher gear, making it impossible to go an hour on most cable channels without seeing a highly produced commercial promising that “Mike will get it done.”
According to filings with the Federal Election Commission, Bloomberg personally spent $875,369,840.07 and accrued additional debts amounting to $31,661,136.33 throughout his less-than-4-month campaign. That’s right—over $900 million in just over 3 months, with $600 million of that fortune going into advertising. For context, fellow candidate Bernie Sanders had spent $116 million as of Super Tuesday, with $18 million toward ads. Elizabeth Warren spent $90 million total and $27 million on advertising.
The point? In a sea of massive campaign spending figures, Bloomberg blew the rest of the candidates out of the water. Per those same FEC filings, $500 million of Bloomberg’s spending went toward TV ads, including $100 million for a commercial during the 2020 Superbowl, with the remaining $100 million funneled into digital advertising. By Feb. 24, according to his own media company, Bloomberg’s ad spending alone averaged $5.6 million a day.
From the very start of his candidacy, Bloomberg’s high spending drew harsh criticism from his opponents. Former candidates Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, for example, labeled Bloomberg “a billionaire that thinks money ought to be the root of all power” and accused him of “hiding behind his TV ads,” respectively.
The worry from political opponents and much of the Democratic electorate alike was that Bloomberg would be able to run away with the Democratic nomination thanks to deep pockets. To the disappointment of Bloomberg, his employees, his supporters and the population of American Samoa, however, this was not the case.
By the time he suspended his campaign, $900 million aside, Bloomberg’s victories were lacking. He failed to win any states, finishing Super Tuesday with just 55 delegates, with 1,991 needed to win the Democratic nomination.
Bloomberg’s inability to garner major voter support with his blank check-style campaign should instill confidence in American voters that money only goes so far and cannot completely take over the democratic process. Records still matter. Debates still matter. Platforms still matter. Voters cannot be entirely bought.
Look no further than former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign for further evidence. Going into Super Tuesday, Biden had spent the least amount of money on advertising of all remaining candidates, according to research by CNN Politics. Despite this financial disadvantage, Biden was the undisputed winner on Mar. 3, winning nine states leading in promised delegate votes for the nomination.
Of course, these results are not to say that money does not matter. Money has always played a huge role in political campaigns, and, now more than ever thanks to the power of new advertising media on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, funding is one of the most important factors in every candidate’s bid. There is no denying that money, especially a massive personal fortune like Bloomberg’s, is a great advantage.
Still, with modernized legislation being drafted and introduced in Washington to curb unethical campaign funding and spending, Americans can be cautiously optimistic that the presidency cannot simply be bought. Voters in the 2020 Democratic primary have shown that campaign money, for all its inarguable influence, has its limits.
Images courtesy of Jackie Thomas ’20
Graph data courtesy of CNN and Vox