Mike Bloomberg isn’t the first very rich man to use his vast wealth to try to chart an express route to the Oval Office.
But he sure seems to be the first to do it with the audacity of a corporate titan building a competition-crushing Fortune 100 company.
In less than three months, the Bloomberg campaign machine has hired more than 2,100 and opened more than 125 offices across almost every state in the country, some in places where no other Democratic candidate has a presence. The billionaire is overwhelming the airwaves with slick ads, driving the buzz on social media with a quirky meme strategy, and outspending President Trump on Facebook. He’s snagging top political talent with salaries far above the ramen-and-beer budget pay of a typical campaign — plus benefits and perks such as catered meals and top-of-the-line iPhones.
“We have never in American history seen a campaign where the campaign budget was ‘no budget,'” said Fernand Amandi, a Democratic political consultant in Miami. “It’s impossible to appreciate the reach and scale he is able to do.”
Bloomberg got into the race late and skipped the first four states, focusing on the 14 Super Tuesday states that vote March 3, when more than a third of all delegates will be awarded, and beyond. Coupling that strategy with nearly limitless resources so far appears to be working. He is rising steadily in the polls — one poll in Florida put the 78-year-old former New York City mayor in first place. He’s just one poll short of qualifying for the stage in the next Democratic debate, on Wednesday, now that the Democratic National Committee no longer requires candidates to have a certain number of donors.
Reportedly worth $60 billion, Bloomberg is bankrolling his presidential bid entirely from his own extremely deep pockets. He’s said he’s willing to spend $1 billion to defeat Trump, and some news reports suggest he could spend even more. His advertising outlay has already topped $300 million, according to news reports.
But analysts say it’s not just the sheer amount of money Bloomberg is pumping into his campaign that makes his presidential bid unprecedented — it’s also how he’s spending it to power a smart and sophisticated operation. His attacks on Trump in particular have drawn praise. One Bloomberg ad on Twitter, "There’s a bully in the White House,” cheekily compares many of Trump’s verbal putdowns to some classic bully scenes in Hollywood movies and ends with a clip of the rousing finale from “The Karate Kid” when Daniel triumphs over his tormentors.
Stacy Pearson, a Democratic campaign consultant in Arizona, which holds its primary March 17, said Bloomberg’s campaign in her state was unlike anything she had ever seen from a Democratic presidential candidate at this stage of the cycle.
"Former mayors, former gubernatorial candidates, really the who’s who of Arizona’s formally elected Democrats, are all sending invitations to house parties or small parties in his support,” she said. “He has this phenomenal sandwich effect happening in Arizona, where you are seeing [his campaign] on the screen at your house and you are seeing it in your inbox from someone you have worked with for 20 years.”
One measure of how far Bloomberg has come within the Democratic race is that his opponents have sharpened their attacks against him, and the number of stories detailing derogatory or profane comments that Bloomberg has made about minorities and women over the years has increased.
On Saturday, for example, The Washington Post published a lengthy recounting of instances in which Bloomberg allegedly used coarse sexual references about women working in his company, as well accusations that female employees faced a hostile working environment, particularly after they became pregnant.
Within hours, the campaign posted a high-production video featuring a number of women who had worked for Bloomberg over the years saying he had been supportive of their careers.
Bloomberg’s gains are rankling his Democratic opponents, who accuse him of trying to buy his way the nomination. Bernie Sanders told CBS on Friday that Bloomberg doesn’t deserve to be on the debate stage. The Vermont senator pointed out that now-departed candidates such as Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey didn’t make previous debates because of DNC rules.
"Nobody changed the rules to get them into the debate. But I guess if you’re worth $60 billion, you can change the rules. I think that is very, very unfortunate.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts repeatedly savaged Bloomberg over comments he made in 2008, rediscovered by the Associated Press last week, in which he said that the end of redlining — a discriminatory housing practice in which banks discriminated against Black borrowers — helped trigger the financial crisis.
“That crisis would not have been averted if the banks had been able to be bigger racists, and anyone who thinks that should not be the leader of our party,” Warren said at a town hall event in Arlington, Va., Thursday that drew 4,000 people.
A campaign spokeswoman said Bloomberg was not available for an interview. The mayor’s defenders say he’s not trying to buy votes; he’s deploying his personal resources to defeat Trump.
"I applaud him for making the kind of investment in the future of our country that we need,” said former Boston police commissioner Ed Davis, who got to know Bloomberg through the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition and was recently tapped as the Bloomberg campaign’s state director in Massachusetts.
Amandi, the Miami consultant, said the bottomless budget has allowed Bloomberg to try new approaches gleaned from years of experience in government and tech innovation. He has had unprecedented reach in the digital sphere, where observers say Democratic candidates have long been behind the curve.
The scale of Bloomberg’s social media surge is astonishing. Since the beginning of 2019, he has more spent than four times what Sanders, the current front-runner, has on Facebook ads. Since Bloomberg entered the race in November, he’s spent $40 million on Facebook ads, quadruple the amount of money Trump has spent on the social media giant in the same period.
Bloomberg has spent more than $250 million on TV and radio ads, according to figures compiled by CNBC. Then earlier this month, his campaign said that moving forward it would double that ad spending.
Nick Venezia, managing director of Social Outlier, a Los Angeles company specializing in data-driven campaigns, said Bloomberg’s unparalleled budget has coincided with a shift in the advertising industry. Companies can now provide much more precise data on where Bloomberg can have the most splash.
“He has his own agency of snipers, sharpshooters that know what they are doing,” Venezia said. “He is going to be able to build out a richer data set than ever possible before.”
Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who advised Senator Marco Rubio on his 2016 presidential bid, said there was no question Bloomberg had applied data and polling analysis to craft a message focused on appealing to centrist Democrats and reaching out and swaying independent voters.
“There are some Democrats who would prefer a socialist but are open to Bloomberg simply because they think he can beat Trump, and that is core to Bloomberg’s message,” Conant said.
The true test, of course, will come Super Tuesday, and he only passes if he can actually log some wins.
“Right now Bloomberg’s numbers are [high] in a few of those Super Tuesday states," said Brian Fallon, a former top aide to Hillary Clinton, "but will that give way to the momentum that other candidates will have, based on the fact that they’re competing in the first states?”
Still, strategists say Bloomberg has smartly been doing far more than buying ads; he’s kept up a brisk campaign schedule, putting on a lot of events and making TV appearances.
Bloomberg’s campaign schedule underscores the nontraditional strategy he’s pursuing, and the breadth of the field on which he is playing. Last month, for instance, while other Democrats focused Iowa and New Hampshire, he staged a one-day, three-stop tour from Chicago to a farm in Minnesota, to Akron, Ohio, to roll out his economic agenda, hopping from urban to rural to post-industrial settings.
That early January trip shows the Bloomberg campaign doesn’t have to target a certain type of voter, said campaign spokeswoman Erin McPike. “We don’t have to make a choice.…We can talk to all kinds of Americans because we have the team to reach all of them."
In recent days, he has campaigned in Tennessee, drawing crowds of more than 1,000 at two events on Wednesday, followed by multiple events in North Carolina and Houston on Thursday. On Saturday, Bloomberg traveled to Richmond, Va., his sixth visit to the Super Tuesday state as a candidate.
Bloomberg hasn’t yet visited Massachusetts, which votes on March 3, but his campaign has been busy here. It has 56 staffers in the state and six offices; they’ve held almost 60 events in 30 communities. The opening party for a new Bloomberg campaign office in Brookline Village last week drew about 75 people.
Campaign staffers signed up volunteers and gave away all the yard signs they had brought. Davis, the former Boston police commissioner, spoke. Bloomberg, he said, is “our best bet to beat Donald Trump this year.”
Newton resident and grandmother of six Mary Bradley, 72, was sold. “If he can handle being the mayor of New York City, he can handle a president who thinks he’s above the law,” she said.
“I think he can stand up to" Trump, Bradley added. Bloomberg, she said, comes from a similar place as Trump, “except he’s classy and he doesn’t sound like a mob boss.”
Laura Krantz and Liz Goodwin of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Syd Stone contributed to this story.