The most important thing to know about Mike Bloomberg is that he’s rich. Very, very rich. Richer than you or me or Donald Trump or H. Ross Perot Sr., or anyone else who’s ever run for president of the United States. With a net worth of more than $65 billion, he’s richer than Michael Dell, Jerry Jones, Tilman Fertitta, Tito Beveridge, Drayton McLane, and Red McCombs combined. If Mike Bloomberg woke up tomorrow with a bank account showing that he had the same amount of money as Mark Cuban ($4.1 billion), it would mean that Bloomberg had somehow lost about as much money as any single human being in the history of the world overnight.
You need to know how rich Mike Bloomberg is, because his entire campaign—and especially what he’s building in Texas, where he’s created a juggernaut the size of which no presidential campaign has ever even dreamed of putting together in the state—is underlined by the truly staggering wealth that the ninth richest person in the world possesses. It’s central to the pitch that his campaign has made, both to the field organizers it’s hired in unprecedented numbers (more than 160 in Texas alone) and to the voters those field organizers are trying to turn out next week on Super Tuesday, which the Bloomberg campaign says it expects to win in Texas. (The Bernie Sanders campaign, which also expects to win Texas, has just five offices in the state.) Bloomberg is rich enough that he doesn’t need to manage expectations around a primary in a state where he’s never polled better than third place.
He’s rich enough that his campaign touts the money he’s able to spend self-funding his campaign as one of its key selling points to undecided voters. Bloomberg, his campaign insists, is the only candidate who can beat Donald Trump. Bloomberg staffers and volunteers will tell you that Trump filed for reelection the day he took office, which is true. They’ll say that the resources Trump will bring to bear on his campaign are greater than any other candidate in history, which is also almost certain to be true. They’ll point out that Trump had more than $200 million cash on hand in January, roughly six times what Bernie Sanders, the current front-runner, had in the bank at the end of the month. Listening as a campaign volunteer called voters from Bloomberg’s South Austin office in early February, I heard the pitch they made to the undecided: “This is going to be the most expensive campaign in history, and only Mike has the resources to compete with Trump.” If you’re worried that Bloomberg is trying to buy the Democratic nomination, the argument to primary voters whose top priority is defeating Donald Trump (which is most of them) seems to be, relax—if he can do that, he can probably buy the presidency, too.
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He’s also rich enough that he’s been able to recruit staff by paying even lower-level field organizers the unheard-of sum of $6,000 a month—more than the median family income in Texas. He’s also made the unusual promise that those field organizers will keep their jobs through the election in November, whether or not Bloomberg ends up securing the nomination. In other words, come November, an army of highly skilled, Bloomberg-funded political organizers expect to be on the ground in swing states around the country, working on behalf of down-ballot candidates for Congress, the Senate, and statehouses across the nation, and maybe even supporting the campaign of current front-runner Bernie Sanders, the democratic socialist who has railed against the “billionaire class” for decades. That’s a hell of a deal. Though parts of the Bloomberg machine may have attracted some grifters, the folks I met in Texas are surprisingly idealistic, if not necessarily ideological. Most of them were uncommitted to a candidate (or had their favorite drop out before voting began) and the campaign’s pitch to on-the-ground staff—make a good salary and help win Texas for the eventual Democratic nominee—has drawn a lot of young people who care a lot about trying to turn Texas blue.
“Party unity is really big for me,” says Cynthia Hinojosa, a field organizer based in the Rio Grande Valley. “All this nonsense of mudslinging does more harm than good. Mike’s campaign and messaging is all about unity, not saying bad things about one another. Homing in on that was something that really drew my attention to Mike.”
Hinojosa graduated from Texas State in 2017, and was immediately hired by the campaign of Erin Zwiener, a 32-year-old running an uphill 2018 campaign in Hays County for the Texas House. She worked for Zwiener throughout her upset victory, and then continued on Zwiener’s reelection campaign for part of 2019, before moving back to her hometown of Mission. She was excited to return to the Rio Grande Valley and put her campaign skills work at home, rebuilding lists and engaging voters every day. She gets to draw a nice salary while building her résumé and developing an electoral infrastructure that, she hopes, can last for years to come. “What Mike is doing here is a real opportunity for Texas,” Hinojosa says.
But it’s not at all clear that Bloomberg plans to keep his Texas staff in Texas. When you talk to senior-level campaign staff, things get fuzzy. Ashlea Turner, the campaign’s state director, says that no specific post-Super Tuesday plans have been made yet in Texas, either for senior staff or for ground-level field organizers. The campaign announced that it would open nineteen field offices before the primary, with more than one each in Houston, Austin, and Dallas, plus others in spots that have never seen a Democratic presidential office before, like Beaumont, Laredo, and San Marcos. But they can’t say for sure which of them will be open through November, and which ones might close up shop shortly after Super Tuesday.
“We haven’t got any directives on post-March 3 activity. The only thing we know is that the field team are the only ones who have positions guaranteed through November, whether Mike Bloomberg is on the ticket or not,” Turner says, noting that senior-level positions like her own were accepted without the long-term promise made to field staffers. Does that mean that the long-term job offered to someone like Hinojosa might end up being in Michigan, Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania, instead of turning Texas blue? “We don’t know the answer to that,” she says.
Owen Townsend is the sort of regional organizing director that any campaign would be lucky to employ. He’s friendly and relentlessly upbeat, the kind of person who seems to think every Tuesday is a super Tuesday. A Virginia native, he joined Claire McCaskill’s Senate campaign in 2018 shortly after graduating from high school, then in March 2019 he landed his dream job working for the presidential campaign of Beto O’Rourke, his political idol. When O’Rourke pulled the plug on his presidential ambitions in November, Townsend was heartbroken, but he bounced back by taking a short-term role with Joe Biden’s campaign to work on the Iowa caucus, with plans to leave for greener pastures once that wrapped up in early February. When Bloomberg came calling, it was the perfect opportunity: He could work to beat Trump, try to unify the party, and have a steady job in a well-funded campaign after bouncing around from campaign to campaign. In early February, he moved to San Marcos to run Bloomberg’s field office in Hays County and finally got to try the Whataburger he had heard so much about from Beto.
Townsend describes himself as “very, very left,” but Bloomberg’s one-percenter status and more moderate politics don’t bother him. He’s more interested in bringing his experience with rural and suburban voters in the Midwest to Texas. Bloomberg, he thinks, is the Democrat who can collect Texas’s 38 electoral votes. “If we’re going to win Texas, we have to pick someone who can appeal to both left and right,” he says. So he’s been reaching out, developing a strategy to connect with people in every part of Hays County—the rural voters in the Hill Country part of the district, the college students who sometimes still mistake the office space he’s decorated with “Texas for Mike” signs for a used bookstore, and the suburban voters along I-35 who commute to Austin or San Antonio for work. And if working for the Bloomberg campaign might carry some stigma among local Democrats, well, Townsend feels like the long-term commitment he’s counting on from the campaign will help win people over in the end.
“Whenever I go to a local Dems meeting, I’m like, ‘I’m going to be here until November, no matter what.’ Feel free to trash Bloomberg all you want, but I’m going to be the guy spending millions of dollars to help out your county party,” he says. “It’s kind of funny when you see people say, ‘Oh, Bloomberg’s just coming into town to buy up the place,’ and we’re knocking on two thousand doors on a weekend. Everything we’re doing, we’re doing for the betterment of the party, and for Texas. And I think people are starting to see that. It makes it feel much more real that we are here to stay, we are here to help out Texas.”
Townsend describes what he was told about Texas when he took the job as “basically like a verbal promise,” and doesn’t seem worried that the campaign might not keep it. When I asked a Bloomberg campaign spokesperson to confirm that the offices in San Marcos and the rest of the state would stick around for as long as Townsend thinks they will, she was coy. “The official line from the campaign is that field operations that Mike Bloomberg 2020 has put in place will roll into the general election whether he’s the nominee or not,” she said, before asking to go off the record.
On a normal presidential campaign, none of that would be unusual. Texas might be in play in the general election, but it’s not the same sort of high-stakes swing state that Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, or Arizona—other states where Bloomberg has a Texas-sized field operation—are guaranteed to be. Any campaign, when trying to decide where to focus, would choose to redeploy resources to the frontline battleground states.
But the whole argument for Bloomberg 2020 is that it isn’t just any campaign. It’s the one run by the self-funding billionaire who has the resources to take on Donald Trump, and whose pitch to voters is that he can fight every battle on every front, all at once. Staffers on the ground have internalized that message. The Bloomberg campaign has recruited an unprecedentedly large army of idealistic young people who want to do long-term good in the communities they’re invested in, with the understanding that they’ve signed on with a campaign that’s hired them to spend the next nine months doing just that. Sometime after Super Tuesday, they’ll find out if the man they’re working for is willing to put his money where his mouth is.