MANCHESTER, N.H. — Bernie Sanders has been agitating against billionaires for years.
From the Senate floor to the presidential campaign trail, Sanders targets the billionaire class and the outsized influence of moneyed interests.
Now, the anti-billionaire candidate may face an extraordinary showdown with a real billionaire.
Even if Sanders — or someone else — emerges as a clear front-runner after Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, billionaire ex-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg looms as a major threat.
The biggest obstacle to the Vermont independent Socialist running as a Democrat may be Bloomberg — and not Pete Buttigieg, the former South Bend mayor, or ex-Vice President Joe Biden, or Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
The latest Boston Globe/Suffolk University/WBZ poll has Sanders and Buttigieg in a tie in New Hampshire. That’s how they came out of the Iowa caucuses. They are about 10 points ahead of Warren.
Bloomberg is skipping New Hampshire and rewriting the Democratic primary playbook.
He is successfully doing that because the amount of his own money he can spend is limitless.
Bloomberg has made his late-starting candidacy viable in just a few weeks by spending hundreds of millions of dollars.
Besides New Hampshire, Bloomberg also is skipping other states with the first 2020 votes – Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada. His leapfrog strategy centers on the states voting in March, when the lion’s share of delegates are up for grabs.
I spent part of Friday watching local television to get a sense of the air war among the rivals running in New Hampshire.
If you were not paying close attention to the primary, you may be shocked on Tuesday to discover that Bloomberg is not on the New Hampshire ballot.
That’s because Bloomberg has made a heavy ad buy on stations with New Hampshire viewers.
Watching the TV ad primary is telling.
I saw a stream of ads for long shot hopeful Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii. Yet she has run so poorly she did not meet the thresholds the Democratic National Committee set to qualify for the Friday New Hampshire debate.
The DNC, realizing Bloomberg’s potential, changed its rules to place him in the Feb. 19 debate in Nevada, even though he did not file for that state’s Feb. 22 caucus.
I asked Sanders about Bloomberg during his Thursday press conference.
“Rules are rules. And people like Julian Castro, played by the rules, campaigned really hard. Cory Booker played by the rules. Tulsi Gabbard played by the rules. Andrew Yang played by the rules,” Sanders said. Castro, the former HUD secretary and Booker, a New Jersey senator, folded their bids.
“ ... And based on the rules determined by the DNC, they were unable to participate in one or more of the debates.
“And now suddenly a guy comes in who does not campaign one bit in Iowa and New Hampshire. … And I guess if you’re worth fifty-five billion dollars, you can get the rules changed for a debate. So to answer your question, I think that that is an absolute outrage and really unfair.”
Friday morning, at the Politics & Eggs breakfast series at Saint Anselm College, Sanders slammed Buttigieg courting billionaire donors.
Sanders said, “I like Pete Buttigieg. Nice guy. But we are in a moment where billionaires control not only our economy but our political life.”
At Friday’s debate, Warren also took aim at Bloomberg and Buttigieg.
Said Warren: “Look, I don’t think anyone ought to be able to buy their way into a nomination or to be president of the United States. I don’t think any billionaire ought to be able to do it, and I don’t think people who suck up to billionaires in order to fund their campaigns ought to do it.”