RICHMOND — Democratic primary voters are obsessed with electability, determined to choose the candidate most likely to defeat President Trump in November. And so to prove it, they’ve gone about systematically eliminating all the most conventionally electable candidates.
Gone even before the Iowa caucuses were the charismatic black Sens. Cory A. Booker and Kamala D. Harris. So, too, was popular Gov. Steve Bullock of deep-red Montana. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, with a history of mopping up big margins in the red parts of her light-blue state, is barely hanging on.
So the electability-obsessed Democrats are left to choose from the septuagenarian socialist Sen. Bernard Sanders; Pete Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana’s fourth-largest city; former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, whose disastrous fourth-place finish in Iowa was actually the best performance he has ever turned in his three presidential campaigns; and a late entry, Michael R. Bloomberg.
Electability-focused Democrats now seem to favor Mr. Bloomberg, the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat who served three terms as mayor of New York City.
Mr. Bloomberg, a plutocrat whose personal wealth surpasses that of dozens of countries, has been carpet-bombing the race with cash. His advertisements across television and the internet are ubiquitous. It turns out that money talks: He’s been rising in the polls both nationally and in individual states. He came here to Virginia’s capital Saturday for a rally; Mr. Bloomberg is targeting the commonwealth ahead of the Super Tuesday primaries on March 3.
The largesse shows on the ground. The campaign is a high-tech operation; too high-tech for some of the attendees. In order to enter the rally, one had to answer several questions by text message; an older man next to me struggled, seemingly not understanding the difference between texting and emailing. Once inside the rally, Mr. Bloomberg’s generosity was much appreciated. The event was held in a microbrewery, and the campaign was kind of enough to spring for an open bar.
There were probably as many people at this Saturday event in a small city on the coldest day of the year than there were at Mr. Biden’s official launch last spring in downtown Philadelphia.
The room where Mr. Bloomberg was to speak quickly filled up; overflow crowds were relegated to two adjoining bars. The crowd was largely middle-aged and mostly white. A surprisingly hip soundtrack kept the waiting throngs entertained. Nowhere were the grimly predictable Bruce Springsteen or John Cougar Mellencamp anthems of Middle American virtue that one usually endures at Democratic campaign events. Instead, we were treated to the likes of Pharrell and Fatboy Slim.
Thirty minutes after the scheduled start time, Mr. Bloomberg took the stage. No doubt blessed with access to the latest in life-extension technology, he is a young 78, projecting vitality and reading from the teleprompter with ease (and much-appreciated speed). His scripted remarks were crisp if banal. He touted his record in New York, citing crime declines and increased access to health insurance. He lamented the president’s record on health care and his behavior. The plutocrat’s only nod to this era of extreme income inequality was a vow of support for higher inheritance taxes.
Mr. Bloomberg was interrupted briefly by a heckler who screamed that he was a “fascist!” citing the stop-and-frisk policy that the NYPD employed under his mayoralty. (A larger protest comprised of pro-gun-rights activists was set up outside.) Mr. Bloomberg took the heckling genially; he didn’t call him fat or challenge him to a push-up contest. He instead chuckled that he appreciated the welcome.
The mayor did address the stop-and-frisk scandal later in his remarks, however: “I wanted to save lives. While many of the ways we tried to reduce gun violence were right, and we did reduce murders by 50% in New York City, there was one practice I deeply regret,” he said. “That was the police practice called stop and frisk. I didn’t fully understand the unintentional pain it caused.”
This line, like all of them, was delivered without a quivering lip. Mr. Bloomberg recites every line in the same rote tone, as if reviewing a company balance sheet. His hurried delivery left little room for applause, though the two biggest ovations were received when he cited his support for abortion rights and when he promised that he would not tweet as president. (Really.)
After 20 short minutes, it was over. For those used to the Fidel Castro-length speeches of Donald Trump, this was something of a relief. As was the fact that the bar was still open.
• Ethan Epstein is editorial editor of The Washington Times. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ethanepstiiiine.
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