WASHINGTON — Eight years ago, a young Marine Corps veteran approached Mayor Michael Bloomberg while Bloomberg was eating a hamburger with his then-girlfriend at J.G. Melon on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
The Marine interrupted Bloomberg’s meal to tell him that he had strong feelings on the mayor’s controversial support for a group that wanted to build a mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks.
Bloomberg braced himself. “This is going to ruin my hamburger,” he thought.
“I really appreciate your stance on the mosque because I think you’re upholding the values that I fought for overseas,” the veteran told Bloomberg, shocking the mayor.
Years later, the mogul is now helping that veteran, Representative Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, in Moulton’s political time of need. Bloomberg announced this week he’s spending $80 million this cycle to boost Democratic candidates, which, according to longtime aide Howard Wolfson, will include at least some of the military veterans Moulton has helped assemble to run for House seats.
Moulton has contributed $1.9 million to nearly two dozen Democratic candidates with a military background whom he’s endorsed in the 2018 midterm cycle. He’s personally recruited several of them. A vocal critic of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Moulton has raised his profile within the party by pushing for a “new generation” of leadership and by recruiting and funding centrist, fresh-faced candidates to run in moderate and even red-leaning districts.
Moulton is selling his candidates to Bloomberg’s network, arguing for all of them to get a piece of the $80 million. Wolfson said Bloomberg is still weighing which candidates to back but there will be at least some overlap with Moulton’s network.
“[Moulton’s] politics are very much in line with Mike’s centrist bipartisanship,” Wolfson said.
Moulton said he and Bloomberg are allied less by idealogy and more by a desire to support people who have gotten into politics for the “right reasons.”
“It isn’t political idealogy or veterans per se, this is about getting people of good character into Congress,” Moulton said.
The former investment banker and founder and CEO of Bloomberg LP is worth $50 billion. He served as mayor of New York for 12 years, until 2014, and has weighed running as an independent candidate for president several times, including in 2016. Bloomberg founded Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group, in 2014, and has used his considerable wealth to back candidates who commit to working to pass gun safety reforms.
Bloomberg recounted the story of his encounter with the unnamed Marine veteran frequently to multiple audiences over several years, according to Wolfson, never mentioning the veteran’s name. He referred to the veteran as big and “hulking’’ in one version, told on “The Daily Show.”
Bloomberg reconnected with Moulton in 2014, when the former Marine decided to get into politics by taking on a sitting member of Congress from his own party. After Moulton sought him out, the billionaire gave him his endorsement, and the two have stayed in touch since, with Moulton visiting Bloomberg in New York several times.
“They’ve had a nice relationship ever since,” Wolfson said.
‘It isn’t political idealogy or veterans per se, this is about getting people of good character into Congress.’
Moulton objects to Bloomberg’s initial description of him as “hulking” — ”I’m the skinniest Marine you’ve ever seen” — but otherwise praises Bloomberg as an astute political player. Moulton has asked Bloomberg for political advice in the past and said he values his judgment.
In a year when much of the left has rebranded itself as “the resistance,” the support of a centrist former Republican billionaire doesn’t always play well among Democratic voters. Bloomberg suggested in his announcement that any Democrats who were pushing to impeach the president would not see a dime of his money. “Nothing could be more irresponsible,” he said. He also touted the $10 million he spent in 2016 to help elect Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a Republican who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year. (Bloomberg backed Toomey after he broke party ranks to support background checks for more gun purchases.)
“I’ve never much liked political parties,” Bloomberg wrote. “I’ve always believed that we should put country before party.”
But Moulton thinks the candidates he’s endorsed would benefit from Bloomberg’s nod of approval — and money. “I mean things are so divided today you can always find someone that would be hurt by someone else,” he said. “I think the mayor is very smart about how he makes investments. . . . I’m confident there are a lot of races that he can help.”
Though Moulton’s recruiting efforts have raised his profile in Washington, some Democrats have privately grumbled that many of those on his list were backed or recruited by the Democratic establishment before Moulton claimed them. If Moulton truly has Bloomberg’s ear, however, his midterm clout will continue to increase.
Among the candidates Moulton has backed through his Serve America PAC are Jared Golden, a state legislator and Marine veteran taking on Representative Bruce Poliquin in Maine, and Amy McGrath, another retired Marine, running in Kentucky. The House Democrats’ campaign arm initially recruited McGrath’s primary opponent, Jim Gray, to run against her, but have since put McGrath on their “red to blue” list of hand-picked candidates.
Bloomberg’s interest in Moulton’s list of endorsed candidates was first reported in The New York Times, which noted he is also consulting with Democratic leaders including Representative Joseph Crowley, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House.
The former New York mayor is originally from Medford, and Moulton isn’t the only Massachusetts legislator he keeps tabs on. He also talks from time to time with Representative Joe Kennedy. “He feels a connection to Massachusetts in general,” Wolfson said. “He likes to know that it’s in good hands.”Liz Goodwin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lizcgoodwin.