Michael Bloomberg's candidacy may be a gift to Bernie Sanders

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders smiles during a campaign rally at the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne in Fort Wayne.

Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters Images

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders smiles during a campaign rally at the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne in Fort Wayne.

  • Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's late entrance into the Democratic presidential primary could benefit his top rival, frontrunner Sen. Bernie Sanders, more than anyone else.
  • As a centrist Democrat and former Republican, Bloomberg is competing chiefly with former Vice President Joe Biden, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar for moderate Democratic primary voters.
  • Bloomberg's entrance has also distracted the other candidates' attention away from attacking Sanders, who became the frontrunner following his strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.
  • On the debate stage in Nevada on Wednesday, Bloomberg will likely face attacks from all angles.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's late entrance into the Democratic presidential primary - and his surge into second place in national polls - could benefit his top rival, frontrunner Sen. Bernie Sanders, more than anyone else.

This is paradoxical given that Bloomberg ostensibly joined the race to stymie, and ultimately beat, Sanders as former Vice President Joe Biden's strength has waned.

Bloomberg, a former Republican who registered as a Democrat last year, is framing himself as a centrist aligned with President Barack Obama and the best-positioned anti-Sanders candidate to beat President Donald Trump. (Bloomberg didn't endorse Obama in 2008 and was slow to support him in 2012).

On an ideological level, the billionaire former New York City mayor is competing chiefly with Biden, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar for moderate Democratic primary voters. And the fading popularity of fellow progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren may help Sanders consolidate his position as the frontrunner.

"Bloomberg-curiosity is clearly driven in part by fear of Bernie, but objectively Bloomberg getting in the race and further fragmenting the field has only made it more likely that Bernie will win," progressive commentator and Vox editor Matthew Yglesias tweeted.

Bloomberg is concentrating his attacks on Trump and Sanders. His campaign's states director, Dan Kanninen, told reporters on Tuesday that the 2020 race has "three people left: Bernie Sanders, Mike Bloomberg, and Donald Trump."

"It's a shameful turn of events to see Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump deploy the very same attacks and tactics against Mike, but the reason is clear," Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg's campaign manager, told The New York Times. "At this point, the primary is Bernie's to lose, and ours to win. Bernie knows this. Trump knows this. That's why they are united in the campaign against Mike."

But the other 2020 candidates are focusing their attacks on Bloomberg, diverting attention that would likely otherwise go to knocking Sanders.

In recent days, Warren criticized Sanders' handling of his supporters' personal attacks on the leadership of an influential Nevada union. As tensions rise between these two candidates, Bloomberg offers both an ideal foil. As the two rail against money in politics and the outsize power of the rich, the billionaire former Republican Wall Street executive has already spent over $330 million of his own personal fortune to bankroll his ad-heavy campaign.

On Wednesday, the candidates are expected to elevate these attacks on Bloomberg when he makes his debate debut in Nevada.

"The point is that $60 billion can buy you a lot of advertising, but it can't erase your record. There's a lot to talk about with Michael Bloomberg," Biden told NBC News in an interview that aired over the weekend.

Sanders and others have slammed Bloomberg's support for the NYPD's "stop and frisk" policy, which was deemed an unconstitutional "form of racial profiling" by a federal judge in 2013, and his opposition to raising the minimum wage in favor of raising the earned income tax credit, among other positions. (Bloomberg recently distanced himself from stop and frisk, despite doubling down on his support for the policy following the court decision. He also recently announced his support for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025).

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