Bloomberg builds ‘massive’ Mississippi campaign as other 2020 Democrats focus elsewhere

Print Share on LinkedIn More

Rogelio V. Solis, Associated Press

Former mayor of New York City, Michael R. Bloomberg speaks as to why Jackson, Miss., was named the winner of the Bloomberg Philanthropies 2018 Public Art Challenge winner, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. The city will receive a grant up to $1 million for a public art project addressing nutrition and food equity in Mississippi.

Presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg is mightily outspending his Democratic opponents in Mississippi, building an operation of historic dimensions as the campaign with the most recognizable presence in Mississippi.

Bloomberg’s multi-million dollar investment in Mississippi, the state with the highest percentage of African American voters, comes amid increased focus on his previous support of the controversial stop-and-frisk policing tactic, which disproportionately affected people of color.

Bloomberg, a former New York City mayor and a billionaire with virtually unlimited capital to spend this cycle, has hired 24 full-time staffers in Mississippi, giving his campaign what several veteran political operatives say is the largest full-time staff of any presidential candidate in the state’s history. It is also one that would rival or exceed the largest statewide campaigns in the state’s history.

“The campaign that Michael Bloomberg is running throughout the country is unprecedented in scale and scope,” said Nathan Shrader, chair of the Department of Government and Politics at Millsaps College. “His campaign has flooded states such as Mississippi, which are often forgotten until the days prior to the primary election, with competent field organizers and advisers, advertising featuring persuasive messages and a data-driven approach designed to maximize their vote share.”

With three weeks until the March 10 primary, when the state’s 41 convention delegate votes are up for grabs, most presidential candidates have spent little money in Mississippi. Bloomberg, with a large investment in the state, is the exception.

While Bloomberg has nearly two dozen paid staffers in the state, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has two paid staffers, is the only Democratic contender with full-time employees working in the state. Former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg have volunteers or surrogates in the state.

Bloomberg is one of just two Democratic presidential candidates who has purchased television ads in Mississippi, spending at least $2.3 million so far this cycle on TV, according to FCC records tracked by FiveThirtyEight. The only other Democratic candidate to spend on Mississippi TV is Tom Steyer, who has spent $25,000 in Mississippi, according to the tracker.

Of the full-time Bloomberg staffers, 14 are field staff. Field staffers organize and run campaign events and canvassing operations and are considered the lifeblood of campaigns. Those staffers are based in Bloomberg campaign offices located in Jackson, Oxford and Gulfport.

The size of Bloomberg’s team is especially striking when compared to the most robust Democratic campaigns in Mississippi. Bloomberg has more full-time staffers than the 2019 gubernatorial campaign of Jim Hood, the 2018 U.S. Senate campaign of Mike Espy, and the 2008 U.S. Senate campaign of Ronnie Musgrove — campaigns that benefited from substantial fundraising and national attention.

Mississippi Today asked several politicos for context on the Bloomberg campaign’s presence. One Republican operative who has worked several presidential campaigns Bloomberg’s investment in Mississippi “unbelievable.” A veteran Democratic operative in Mississippi used an expletive in describing Bloomberg’s spending as “massive.”

Bloomberg entered the race in November 2019 and did not qualify for the ballot in the first four caucus or primary states. As the remaining Democratic candidates for president focus their efforts and spending in those states, Bloomberg is saturating Super Tuesday states and other later states like Mississippi with big spending in hopes of picking up delegates.

National campaign manager Kevin Sheekey has said the campaign is utilizing a “national political campaign” that is designed to reach “everyone in the country at once.”

“Nobody is going to the other states except two people: myself and Donald Trump,” Bloomberg said in a late January rally in Vermont. “And if you want to replace Donald Trump, maybe you might want to visit these states and make the case as to why you’re better than Donald Trump.”

In addition to the size and scope of the Mississippi campaign, senior officials on the Bloomberg campaign hired experienced campaign professionals and rising young Democrats, inhibiting other campaigns from gaining meaningful ground ahead of the primary.

Pam Shaw, a longtime Democratic consultant who specializes in African American outreach, is the campaign’s state director. Several campaign alumni of Democratic Senate candidate Mike Espy have joined the Bloomberg team, including political director Teresa Jones. 

Sam Hall, the former executive director of the Mississippi Democratic Party who was most recently executive editor of The Clarion Ledger, is communications director. Emily Liner, a Bay St. Louis native who served in various policy adviser and governmental affairs roles in Washington, D.C., is the digital director.

The campaign also hired a handful of young Mississippians seen as up-and-comers in the party, including Jarrius Adams, the president of the Young Democrats of Mississippi who is serving as an organizing director, and Reid Haynie, who is serving as the campaign’s data director.

Other staffers include: Former Democratic political candidates like Ryan Brown, who ran for central district public service commission in 2019; Brandon Rue, who ran for the state House of Representatives in 2019; and Mario Giles, who ran for Bolivar County supervisor in 2019.

As pundits have suggested that Bloomberg’s later-states focus could position him as a contender ahead of the Democratic National Convention, his campaign has faced criticism in recent days about his tenure as New York’s mayor.

In the past week, several former employees of Bloomberg’s raised allegations of sexism and sexual harassment. Citing previously unreleased court documents and interviews with witnesses, The Washington Post last week detailed vulgar and misogynistic comments Bloomberg allegedly made toward women.

Also in recent days, reporters have honed in on Bloomberg’s stance on New York City’s stop-and-frisk policies, a signature of his 10 years as mayor that disproportionately affected minorities. Since he launched his campaign in November 2019, Bloomberg has repeatedly apologized for his support of stop-and-frisk, though that apology came after he spent years insisting the policy was effective and glossing over important context about the policy’s eradication.

“As Mike continues to increase in the polls, the attacks will increase, too,” said Hall, Bloomberg’s Mississippi communications director. “And despite the attacks, we continue to add more endorsers and supporters from across the state and from every background. The reason is because people understand Mike has addressed these issues head on, he’s apologized and — most importantly — he has a strong record of helping minorities and underserved, disadvantaged communities as a mayor, a businessman and a philanthropist.”

Bloomberg has absorbed the recent blows and jabbed at Democratic opponents and Republican President Donald Trump. This week, Bloomberg’s campaign tweeted a video criticizing Sanders’ supporters. Last week, Bloomberg shot back at Trump for tweeting about his height, calling the president “a carnival barking clown.”

Meanwhile, the Bloomberg campaign has been rolling out Mississippi endorsements in recent weeks. Last week, it announced a handful of Democratic members of the state House of Representatives had endorsed Bloomberg.

Many Democratic candidates are hoping to get a boost from black mayors across the country. Bloomberg has picked up endorsements from Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser; Stockton, California, Mayor Michael Tubbs; San Francisco Mayor London Breed; and former Birmingham Mayor William Bell. In Mississippi, Meridian Mayor Percy Bland and Mayersville Mayor Linda Short have endorsed Bloomberg.

Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who has not publicly endorsed any candidate, is considered a key endorsement target ahead of the primary and has been courted in recent weeks by several 2020 candidates. 

Lumumba hosted Bloomberg and his campaign for a round table discussion about criminal justice reform in December 2019. And in late 2018, Lumumba and Bloomberg stood shoulder-to-shoulder when Bloomberg’s nonprofit announced a $1 million donation for a public art space in downtown Jackson.

In spring 2018, the Jackson mayor held a town hall with Sanders before the Vermont senator announced his intentions to again seek the presidency.

Although Lumumba has not signaled whether he will make an endorsement, several Bloomberg staffers have ties to the capital city’s mayor. 

Brittany Gray, an organizer who worked on campaigns for Lumumba and his late father, the former mayor of Jackson, is an organizing director for the Bloomberg campaign. Chuck Patterson and Tyson Jackson — also organizing directors for the Bloomberg camp — are close friends of Lumumba’s and worked on his campaigns.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Lumumba did not immediately respond to a request for comment.