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Millions of dollars later, Mike Bloomberg quits the presidential race and endorses Joe Biden

Turns out maybe you can’t buy the presidency after all.

Mike Bloomberg greets supporters in West Palm Beach, Florida, on March 3, 2020.
Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Mike Bloomberg has ended his 2020 presidential bid and is endorsing Joe Biden.

The billionaire businessman, philanthropist, and former New York City mayor announced that he is suspending his White House run on Wednesday morning, the day after widely underperforming on Super Tuesday. It marks the end of what was probably the most unconventional campaign of the 2020 election and certainly the fastest-spending one. Bloomberg has said he’ll keep the infrastructure he put in place for his campaign up and running until November, which could be an important boon for the Democratic Party, perhaps especially Biden.

“I’m a believer in using data to inform decisions. After yesterday’s results, the delegate math has become virtually impossible — and a viable path to the nomination no longer exists. But I remain clear-eyed about my overriding objective: victory in November. Not for me, but for our country,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “And so while I will not be the nominee, I will not walk away from the most important political fight of my life.”

He commended Biden for “his decency, his honesty, and his commitment to the issues that are so important to our country” and said he believes the former vice president has the “best shot” of winning in November.

Bloomberg’s campaign was a long shot from the start. He only announced he was running in November 2019, after initially saying he wasn’t going to months before, and he made it clear from the get-go that the path he would take to the Oval Office wasn’t the typical one. He skipped campaigning in the four early primary states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina — and instead focused on Super Tuesday and more delegate-rich states.

But what was most unique about Bloomberg’s bid wasn’t the states he was going to; it was his money. His campaign was entirely self-funded — you could not give a dime to him, and even his campaign merchandise was sold at cost. Bloomberg, whose net worth Forbes pegs at more than $60 billion, dumped millions upon millions of dollars into television, digital, and radio advertising, to the point that he felt almost inescapable. His campaign opened more than 150 field offices with 2,400 staffers across 43 states and territories.

Sometimes, his money allowed him to try out tactics that were, frankly, a little weird. He paid some Instagram influencers to create a meme campaign around him, and he also sought to hire 500 “deputy digital organizers” to promote his campaign to their contact lists and on their personal social media accounts. The pay: $2,500 a month for 20-30 hours per week of work. Even Bloomberg’s unpaid social media strategy was at times a bit odd.

His campaign strategy, as unconventional as it was, did gain him quite a bit of traction in the polls and in the national conversation. While many pundits, politicians, and experts brushed off his run initially, by January, he began to rise in the polls, and by mid-February, he reached the top tier nationally.

Mike Bloomberg campaigns in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Super Tuesday, March 3, 2020.
Eva Marie Uzcategui/AFP via Getty Images

But as his campaign took off, so did scrutiny of his record. Bloomberg, who spent 12 years as New York City’s mayor and has been a fairly outspoken figure for decades, has a lot of baggage. He apologized for overseeing the city’s stop-and-frisk policing, which disproportionately targeted black and Latino young men, just before launching his presidential campaign, but he defended the policy for years, which came back to haunt him. More broadly, the former mayor has a history of making comments about minorities and the poor that can often seem crass and insensitive.

His presidential run also cast attention on past harassment and discrimination claims against Bloomberg and his company, Bloomberg LP. He initially refused to release women who made claims against him from nondisclosure agreements they had signed, but eventually he agreed to allow three women to speak out if they wished.

It turns out you can only buy yourself partway to the White House

Bloomberg’s bet on his presidential campaign was two-fold: One, a lot of money can go a long way in getting ahead in politics. And two, Democratic voters were looking for a Sen. Bernie Sanders alternative in the primary, and nobody who was then in the race — former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, etc. — was it.

He ultimately missed the mark on both fronts.

While Bloomberg spent a ton of money with positive messaging about himself in advertising, it wasn’t enough to blot out the parts of his record that Democratic primary voters might be bothered by. After a wobbly first debate performance in Nevada, it became clear that Bloomberg hadn’t been on a debate stage in a while. He probably isn’t often challenged on his views and decisions in his everyday life, and it showed. All of the candidates in the Nevada and South Carolina debates went after Bloomberg, and Warren, specifically, landed some big punches. The debates took a toll on Bloomberg in the polls.

In a memorable debate performance, Sen. Warren skewered Bloomberg by saying, “I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians.’ And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump; I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”
Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

Democrats wary of a Sanders candidacy have failed to coalesce around a non-Sanders contender, and Bloomberg attempted to make himself the last best option. Instead, he managed to scramble the non-Sanders vote even more than it already was.

As Sanders emerged as the frontrunner, Bloomberg appeared to believe that in a one-on-one with Sanders, he could take him on. Heading into South Carolina and Super Tuesday, he began to roll out aggressive anti-Sanders ads and messaging. But Bloomberg’s theory on being able to beat Sanders — and, of course, everyone else — in the Democratic primary didn’t work. He underperformed on Super Tuesday, seemingly taking a big hit as Biden’s campaign gained steam.

Bloomberg has been toying with the idea of running for president for years, and at the very least, now he’s tried. He has pledged to keep his political operations up and running through November, which could have important implications for Democrats across the country and up and down the ballot, including at the top of the ticket.

That’s sure to be important for Democrats as they turn to running against Trump for real.