Dear Readers,

The coronavirus pandemic has caused widespread disruption to the lives of everyone in Tampa Bay and to so many businesses in our community. Here at the Tampa Bay Times, we continue to provide free, up-to-date information at as a public service. But we need your help. Please consider supporting us by subscribing or donating, and by sharing our work. Thank you.

  1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

Bloomberg warns Florida Democrats: A vote for Biden helps Bernie Sanders

Florida’s presidential primary is March 17, two weeks after the March 3 Super Tuesday vote when more than 1,300 delegates will be decided.
Democratic presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg poses for photographs with supporters during his campaign launch of "Mike for Black America," at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, in Houston. [DAVID J. PHILLIP | AP]

Michael Bloomberg’s campaign says the 2020 presidential race is essentially down to three candidates — and that voting for any Democrat other than the former New York mayor increases the chances that a self-described democratic socialist will win the nomination.

A top Bloomberg’ campaign official on a Tuesday call with reporters warned that Florida Democrats who vote for former Vice President Joe Biden in the primary will help Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in his quest to win the 2020 delegate race — and that a Sanders primary victory exponentially increases President Donald Trump’s reelection chances.

Related: Today is the deadline to register to vote in Florida's presidential preference primary

Florida’s presidential primary is March 17, two weeks after the March 3 Super Tuesday vote when more than 1,300 delegates will be decided, but Bloomberg’s camp is arguing that Democrats with early ballots shouldn’t vote for Biden if their top concern is nominating a candidate who can defeat Trump. Tuesday is the deadline for Florida voters to register for the primary.

“Coming out of the results of Iowa and New Hampshire, which were extremely muddled, it is quite clear to us that we are really down to a race where there are three people left: Bernie Sanders, Michael Bloomberg and Donald Trump,” Bloomberg states director Dan Kanninen said. “Of that bunch, only Mike Bloomberg has the chance to beat Donald Trump in the fall elections.”

The Bloomberg campaign’s assessment of the race in Florida comes two days before the former New York mayor’s first debate appearance amid a hiring spree of campaign staff in the state.

Biden’s campaign said Bloomberg’s record will face scrutiny during Wednesday’s Democratic debate, his first since announcing his candidacy last year. Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates said voters will reject Bloomberg when informed about his record.

“Mike Bloomberg has not yet endured a single debate,” Bates said in a statement. “He has not been on the ballot in early states or won a single delegate to the convention. He has spent the last week weathering headlines about sexual harassment at his company, the racist stop-and-frisk policy he oversaw and advocated for, how he attributed the financial crisis to the end of one of the worst housing discrimination practices, and his regular demeaning of President Barack Obama. It is a jarring but unsurprising level of arrogance for his campaign to suggest in any way that his position in this campaign is solid or assured.”

Miami Democratic strategist Ben Pollara, who supports Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren but is not working for any 2020 campaign, said Bloomberg’s assessment of the race is “certainly an over simplification” but “it’s not that far off.”

Pollara said he doesn’t have an early ballot, but if he did he would not send it in today with a check mark next to Warren’s name.

“I would not be sending it back for Warren today. I would be holding it to wait and see while try to wrap my head around the fact that I might be voting for Mike Bloomberg,” Pollara said. “Barring some absolute surprise, Florida is going to be the simplified equation the Bloomberg folks are giving.”

Bloomberg has blanketed the state with television ads since November 2019 while rival campaigns like Biden’s and Sanders’ were crisscrossing Iowa and New Hampshire for votes. Bloomberg’s campaign said Tuesday it has hired 135 staffers around Florida and opened 10 field offices in the last two weeks. The campaign aims to open 10 more offices and have 200 people on staff within the next month.

“We’re not just running ads in television and digital media. We’re on the ground,” Bloomberg Florida director Scott Kosanovich said. “We’re doing it now because this is the time to build the kind of organization needed to make sure that Mike is not just the nominee but make sure the campaign is strong enough to beat Donald Trump in November.”

Bloomberg’s campaign said he’s “the only Democrat in the race that will put Florida in play.”

“Obviously, if Florida’s in play and we can win that state, the path for Donald Trump becomes extremely narrow,” Kanninen said. “That, I think, is going to be compelling in terms of persuading voters to come to our side.”

The most recent poll of Democratic primary voters in Florida by St. Pete Polls showed Bloomberg effectively tied with Biden with 27% and 26% support, while Sanders, former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar are double-digits behind. The poll, with a 2 percentage point margin of error, was conducted from February 12 to February 13 after the New Hampshire primary where Sanders was victorious.

And Bloomberg has offered policy positions that are different from other moderates in the field, including Biden — especially his explicit support for Puerto Rican statehood.

But his campaign said the threshold for winning delegates in Florida, where all candidates with more than 15% of the vote statewide and across 27 congressional districts receive some of the state’s 219 delegates, could lead to a scenario where Sanders dominates the delegate count with about 25% of the vote. Therefore, it’s important for moderates to unify.

“I think there is a danger,” Kanninen said. “The rules of the process, which are convoluted in many respects, create some interesting quirks. There really is a prospect of a candidate with maybe only a quarter of the vote getting 80 to 90% of the delegates.”

But Pollara said that it’s impossible to discount Sanders’ general election chances, noting that many Democrats’ hand-wringing about his candidacy after popular vote victories in Iowa and New Hampshire mirrors what many Republicans were saying about Trump in February 2016.

“I don’t think you can take Florida off Bernie’s map more than you can take it off any Democrat’s map,” Pollara said. “All these Republicans thought that Trump was going to be this horrific drag on the ticket and he wasn’t. He probably saved a couple of endangered incumbents. I think if Bernie’s the nominee, he gets his ass kicked but I don’t discount the possibility there could be a reverse Trump phenomenon for Bernie.”