Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. Picture: REUTERS/SCOTT MORGAN
Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. Picture: REUTERS/SCOTT MORGAN

Columbus — Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s late entry into the presidential race highlights the deep philosophical divide animating the Democratic contest — putting his experience, his reputation and his fortune behind the argument that a pragmatic centrist pledging competent government is what’s needed to take down an unconventional president.

With no clear front-runner in the Democratic race so far, Bloomberg says he wants to fill this vacuum by offering primary voters a credible alternative — and a clear choice to go down a path of moderate views on taxes and healthcare, at a time there’s concern in the party that advocating policies deemed too far left will only ensure President Donald Trump’s re-election.

“I offer myself as a doer and a problem solver — not a talker,” Bloomberg said in announcing his candidacy, where he called Trump “an existential threat to our country and our values.”

Bloomberg also cited his efforts to rebuild New York after the September 11 attacks and his efforts in favour of gun control and against climate change and tobacco use. “I believe my unique set of experiences in business, government and philanthropy will enable me to win and lead.”

Bloomberg’s entry into the race comes on the heels of fears expressed by both former President Barack Obama and House speaker Nancy Pelosi that Democrats risk handing the election to Trump by proposing sweeping changes like Medicare for All. Bloomberg said in January the plan, which would effectively curtail private insurance, “would bankrupt us for a very long time”.

The question Bloomberg will face is whether a 77-year-old billionaire and former Republican is the right candidate to carry that message as the Democratic nominee. Bloomberg has added another layer of complications, saying he doesn’t plan to compete in the early nominating contests like Iowa and New Hampshire and will focus on delegate-rich California and other states voting on the March 3 Super Tuesday contests and beyond.

No-one has ever won that way, Democratic strategists and experts say — but also say that no-one like Bloomberg has been able to spend what it takes to run a national campaign to amass the needed delegates.

“Running for the nomination without running in the early states is like defying gravity. That’s how hard it is,’’ Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who wrote a book about the presidential nominating process, said ahead of Bloomberg’s announcement. “However, what has not been tried is defying gravity with a lot of money behind you.’’

Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

Aides said the former New York mayor, who announced in March he wouldn’t run, is getting in now because polls show the top issue for Democrats is electability against Trump — and everyone in the field has vulnerabilities against the president.

Bloomberg spokesperson Jason Schechter also said many progressive voters would like Bloomberg’s positions on big policy issues. He also said voters would be willing to look past their differences with Bloomberg if they believed he could beat Trump.

Former vice-president Joe Biden currently represents the centrist view in the primary contest and entered the race as the front-runner, but he has lagged in fundraising and has faced questions about electability. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has risen to the lead in Iowa with moderate positions. Warren and Sanders have solidified their positions by promising to tax the wealthy and provide government healthcare to all.

Bloomberg is planning to finance his entire campaign without outside donations, even if that prevents him from qualifying for upcoming debates, Schechter said on Sunday. That tactic could make it harder for him to raise his profile among voters who don’t know him, and avoids him having to defend his policies to his rivals and the public.

Bloomberg hasn’t said how much he’s willing to devote to the race but will “spend what’s needed’,’ Schechter said.

His team also has announced plans to spend $34m on campaign adverts, $100m on anti-Trump digital adverts in key states — though those adverts would not feature Bloomberg — and between an estimated $15m-$20m to register 500,000 voters in five battleground states won by Trump.

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, zeroed in on his self-funded campaign strategy.

“Does the country have an appetite for a billionaire who’s going to throw that money around the way billionaire Trump never did?” Conway said.

Bloomberg’s announcement cited many of his accomplishments as a three-term New York mayor — including raising teacher salaries and improving the graduation rate by 42%, cutting the number of murders in half, reducing the city’s carbon footprint by 14% and creating new anti-poverty programmes.

He has also faced criticism for a stop-and-frisk policy that disproportionately affected black and Hispanic men, and for dietary rules that banned extra-large sugary drinks in the city. He apologised for stop-and-frisk in remarks at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn last week.

Democratic consultant Mary Anne Marsh, who is neutral in the race, questioned Bloomberg’s view of the contest. “He kind of is looking at this in sort of a flawed premise way, which is, ‘Democrats want a moderate, Democrats can only win with a moderate, and I will scoop up all the votes of all the moderates who are already running,’’’ Marsh said.

Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick also announced what he called a “Hail Mary’’ bid recently for the Democratic nomination, with aides citing a similar weakness in the field identified by Bloomberg.

Political analysts questioned whether a party dominated by women, blacks and young progressive voters would nominate Bloomberg — especially at time of rising concern about income inequality and corporate power.

No-one in modern political history has won the nomination without competing in the early-voting states. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani tried a similar approach in the 2008 Republican presidential race by emphasising Florida, but finished a distant third and withdrew from the race.

Bloomberg has the resources to compete in hundreds of congressional districts that could win him enough delegates to gain an insurmountable lead, strategists say. And while about 4% of delegates are available in the initial four contests, 62% will be decided by March 17, according to the Green Papers, which tracks the process.

Joe Trippi, a veteran of Democratic presidential campaigns, said Bloomberg’s best chance with such a late entry is to bypass the first four states and to hope no clear contenders emerge. “It is the only strategy that makes sense for him,’’ Trippi said.