Two weeks ago, former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was still an undecided voter and he wasn’t sure if he would even endorse in the Democratic primary.
Now, he’s one of the biggest names in Tampa Bay politics to get behind the surging campaign of former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Buckhorn will endorse Bloomberg for president today, the Tampa Bay Times has learned.
Buckhorn said Bloomberg’s accomplishments as the leader of a major metropolis, a business tycoon and champion of progressive causes makes him uniquely qualified for the Oval Office.
More than that, Buckhorn believes Bloomberg is the only candidate in the crowded Democratic field who can win over the left, Independents and moderate Republicans. The two-term Tampa mayor said the rest of contenders have spent too long engaging in a fight over the party’s liberal base to win a general election.
“There are a lot of people who supported Donald Trump who wont go so far down the road with the other Democratic candidates but they will support a Mike Bloomberg,” Buckhorn said.
Buckhorn’s comments are reflective of the central question in the Democratic primary right now: Is it better to nominate a pragmatic centrist to challenge Trump from the middle, or an idealogical warrior who will inspire a movement that can outgrow the Republican’s base?
The choice for Buckhorn is similar to one he made in 2018 when he endorsed moderate former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham over Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum in the Democratic primary for governor. Gillum won the nomination, but eventually lost to Republican Ron DeSantis by less than 35,000 votes.
“Would you rather be right, or would you rather win?” Buckhorn said. “Would you rather drag every Democratic candidate through a litany of litmus test questions, or would you rather have four more years of Donald Trump?”
“As my mother told me, a half of loaf is better than nothing at all.”
But could a Bloomberg candidacy gain steam in a primary decided by the party faithful and not the Independents and moderates that show up in November? Bloomberg has already absorbed plenty of criticism from the left for his administration’s policing tactics that disproportionately targeted black and Latino residents.
Between Trump and Bloomberg, there’s no comparison, said Buckhorn, who faced a similar crisis during his tenure. In 2015, the Times reported that Tampa police under Buckhorn ticketed bicyclists more than any other city in the state and eight out of 10 citations went to black people.
“Trump is an out-and-out racist,” Buckhorn said, “and I don’t see how any African American faced with that choice could not vote for the Democrat.”
The two current mayors of Tampa Bay’s largest cities may remain neutral in the Democratic primary, making Buckhorn one of the biggest names to endorse in Florida’s second-largest metro area. Buckhorn was a popular two-term mayor who served until 2019 and once toyed with a bid for governor.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg and Tampa’s state Sen. Janet Cruz previously endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden. St. Petersburg state Rep. Ben Diamond and former Tampa state Rep. Sean Shaw have backed ex-South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Bloomberg needs all the support he can get after his late entrance into the race. The Republican-turned-Democrat did not qualify for the first four nominating contests and he is instead relying on delegate rich states, like Florida, that don’t vote until March or later. Bloomberg is also focused on states that are traditionally general election battlegrounds (again, like Florida) and he has already spent $250 million on advertising, staff and office space in those states.
Funneling millions of his wealth into local city initiatives has won Bloomberg strong support from many current and former mayors from across the country, including some in Florida. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman hasn’t endorsed in the primary, but he welcomed Bloomberg into the race when many others accused the billionaire of swooping in at the 11th hour to buy the election.
The muddled mess coming out of Iowa yesterday has perhaps offered new validation to Bloomberg’s strategy. Buckhorn suggested that the traditional path to the nomination should be thrown out after 2016.
Bloomberg recently visited Tampa during a swing through Florida. He had breakfast with Mayor Jane Castor at Trips Diner and drew 300 to a downtown rally. Buckhorn, still allegedly undecided at the time, introduced Bloomberg with so much enthusiasm, an endorsement seemed all but ensured.
After the event, Bloomberg heaped praise on Buckhorn during an interview with the Times.
“As Mayor, Buckhorn worked to enroll thousands of Floridians in the Affordable Health Care program while leading Tampa’s transformation and revitalization,” Scott Kosanovich, Florida state director for Bloomberg said in a statement. “We are thrilled to have the support of one of Florida’s trusted and most proven leaders as we build an unparalleled operation here in our efforts to defeat Donald Trump.”