Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg plans to spend at least $100 million in Florida to help elect Democrat Joe Biden, a massive late-stage infusion of cash that could reshape the presidential contest in a costly toss-up state central to President Trump’s reelection hopes.
Bloomberg made the decision to focus his final election spending on Florida last week, after news reports that Trump had considered spending as much as $100 million of his own money in the final weeks of the campaign, Bloomberg’s advisers said. Presented with several options on how to make good on an earlier promise to help elect Biden, Bloomberg decided that a narrow focus on Florida was the best use of his money.
The president’s campaign has long treated the state, which Trump now calls home, as a top priority, and his advisers remain confident in his chances given strong turnout in 2016 and 2018 that gave Republicans narrow winning margins in statewide contests.
“Voting starts on Sept. 24 in Florida so the need to inject real capital in that state quickly is an urgent need,” said Bloomberg adviser Kevin Sheekey. “Mike believes that by investing in Florida it will allow campaign resources and other Democratic resources to be used in other states, in particular the state of Pennsylvania.”
The last Republican to win the White House without Florida was Calvin Coolidge in 1924, and a loss of the state’s 29 electoral votes would radically shrink Trump’s paths to reelection. With Florida in his column, Biden would be able to take the presidency by holding every state that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and winning any one of the following states: Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, all of which Biden leads in current public polling averages.
In response to the Florida commitment, Trump attacked Bloomberg on Sunday morning, mocking his performance in the Democratic primary debates earlier this year. “I thought Mini Mike was through with Democrat politics,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
“Save NYC instead,” he added.
In recent weeks, polls in Florida have narrowed, with the Cook Political Report recently shifting the state from “lean Democrat” to “toss up.” A Washington Post average of public polls since August finds Biden up by one percentage point in the state, well within the margin of error. While he has been doing better than past Democratic candidates with Whites and seniors, Biden has struggled among the state’s Latino population, which Republicans have focused enormous resources on courting over several election cycles.
“If you have the ability to make sure that you are able to speak directly to all of these different communities and where they live then you are going a long way to securing the states for Biden in this election,” Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) said. “I’m glad that Mike Bloomberg recognized this and is prepared to make an investment to make sure that every one of those communities will be aware of the importance of this election.”
The spending will focus mostly on television and digital ads, in both English and Spanish.
Bloomberg’s aim is to prompt enough early voting that a pro-Biden result would be evident soon after the polls close. Florida, unlike other swing states, reports almost all early ballots shortly after voting ends.
Democrats and Republicans have worried that early results will dictate public perceptions of who will ultimately win the election. In many states, the first reported votes are more Republican, but the numbers turn more Democratic over time as more mail-in and early votes are added to the tally.
“It would give lie to what we expect to be Trump’s election night messaging that Democrats are stealing the election, because unlike other battleground states, Florida counts its absentee ballots on or by Election Day,” Bloomberg adviser Howard Wolfson said. “We think Florida is incredibly close but winnable.”
A recent report by Hawkfish, a voter data firm funded by Bloomberg, predicted that even in a scenario where Biden wins 54 percent of the final vote, partisan differences in mail voting preference could lead to an initial count that shows Trump winning with 55 percent of ballots tabulated nationally on Nov. 3. In public polling, Republican voters have reported far less interest in voting by mail or voting early than Democrats.
A prominent Democratic consultant in Florida, not aware of the Bloomberg decision, said Saturday that Democratic outside groups have mostly focused on Midwestern states because of the prohibitive cost of advertising in Florida. This person, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy, estimated that it would take $15 million to $20 million to significantly move Biden’s numbers among Latinos, and $60 million to $70 million to get on television across the state over the next 51 days and have a real impact.
Between March 24 and Sept. 11, the Biden campaign and Democratic groups outspent Trump and Republican groups in the state on television by a margin of $42 million to $32 million, according to data from a Democratic tracking firm. But future reservations suggest that gap is set to narrow, in part because of increased investment by wealthy Trump backers operating independently of his campaign.
Preserve America, a new super PAC expected to be backed by Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, announced $30 million in spending in seven states this month, including Florida, with more spending expected to be announced soon. The group has not disclosed its donors.
Bloomberg’s advisers described the spending plan as “nine figures” and declined to say how much higher than $100 million Bloomberg might be willing to go, if at all. They said Bloomberg is hopeful that his commitment will push other wealthy Democratic donors to further open their pocketbooks for other states in the final months of the campaign. Bloomberg’s money will be spent through Independence USA, his own super PAC, and other Democratic groups.
Between November and March, Bloomberg spent more $1 billion on his own failed bid for the Democratic nomination, including about $275 million on ads that criticized Trump. When he endorsed Joe Biden, he announced that he would “work to make him the next President of the United States.” Bloomberg subsequently received a prime speaking slot on the final night of the Democratic convention this year.
But just what Bloomberg, who is estimated to be worth more than $50 billion, planned to do with his money has remained a significant source of suspense among Democratic strategists. After flooding local and state Democratic Party accounts with money during his campaign, Bloomberg transferred about $20 million in cash and prepaid office leases to the Democratic National Committee, taking advantage of a provision of campaign finance law that allows candidates to donate leftover money. He also spread his money to benefit state and local Democratic candidates.
A group he helps to fund, Everytown for Gun Safety, has pledged to spend $60 million on elections this cycle, and he has committed another $60 million to help preserve or strengthen the Democratic House majority. Swing Left, a group focused on winning state legislative seats, and Fair Fight, a voter protection effort led by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, have also received millions. Bloomberg has not yet announced any spending to help elect a Democratic Senate, after allotting $20 million to the effort in 2018.
The former New York mayor, a onetime Republican and independent who changed his voter registration to Democratic in 2018, has also given an additional $35 million to Hawkfish, which is working to improve voter targeting with independent groups on the Democratic side. The group combines voter file data with expensive consumer data, in an effort to better assist Democrats in targeting and turning out voters.
Through Hawkfish, advisers said, Bloomberg has also quietly funded other distinct programs with multimillion-dollar budgets, including an effort with Unite the Country, a pro-Biden super PAC, to launch a digital campaign targeting 400,000 veterans in battleground states like Pennsylvania and Florida.
A separate Hawkfish program, with a nonprofit called the Collective Education Fund, is targeting digital ads to communities of color in an effort focused on major cities in key states, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Detroit.
“The bottom line is when you have additional resources, you can solidify your voters and then communicate with those who are still on the fence for some reason,” Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) said. “One hundred million can do just that.”