Billionaires with eye on White House to visit battleground states

DES MOINES, Iowa — Two deep-pocketed Democrats are set to travel to early presidential primary states, stoking further speculation about whether they will soon launch bids for the White House.

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York mayor, is set to visit three towns in Iowa on Tuesday, while billionaire investor and activist Tom Steyer will host a town hall in Charleston, South Carolina.

Both men have been noncommittal about whether they will run for president in 2020. But with as many as two dozen Democrats considering a campaign, they’ll likely have to decide whether to run early in the new year.

Bloomberg and Steyer spent millions during the 2018 cycle to help Democrats regain control of the House. Jumping off that success, their travel on Tuesday will give them new opportunities to test their message and, perhaps most importantly, gauge the interest of Democratic primary voters and activists in the potential candidacies.

Bloomberg will travel to Cedar Rapids, Ankeny and Des Moines for a screening of his climate change film, “Paris to Pittsburgh,” and other energy-related events. The Iowa caucuses are traditionally the first voting for presidential nominees. South Carolina’s primary is usually the first in the South.

Dale Todd, a Democratic city councilman from Cedar Rapids, praised Bloomberg for his business success and for spending tens of millions of dollars to promote awareness and solutions for Democratic priorities such as gun violence and climate change. Still, Todd, an influential early backer of Barack Obama in 2008, had reservations.

“There is the age question for me. It shouldn’t prohibit him from running, but it’s a concern for me,” Todd said of the 76-year-old Bloomberg. “Whoever I support I’d like to be around for a bit of time. I would hate to put a big investment in someone that old and have something happen to them.”

He has provided some early help to New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who is also eyeing a White House bid. Todd said he’s looking for a presidential nominee to represent emerging generations of party leaders.

Bloomberg has contributed $250,000 to the Iowa Democratic Party this year, giving him some claim to gains such as capturing two Republican-held House seats last month. He also has plans to meet with key Democratic operatives Tuesday. But other potential candidates, including Booker, Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, have been more aggressive in their efforts.

Ahead of his trip to Iowa, Bloomberg penned a guest column in The Des Moines Register, the state’s largest newspaper, in which he made an oblique reference to the 2020 contest.

“A recent op-ed in the Des Moines Register called for aspiring presidential candidates to present a bold vision for taking on climate change,” Bloomberg wrote. “I couldn’t agree more: We need stronger leadership in Washington on this issue. But Americans aren’t waiting around for it.”

Steyer, a former hedge fund investor, will hold the first of five town halls across the country to promote his platform. Tuesday’s event will focus on the right to vote.

The town hall and his revamped platform, which Steyer released late last month, are the most significant steps Steyer has taken in the direction of a potential presidential campaign, though he remains noncommittal on whether he will run. In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Steyer said he was still considering whether to run and how he could have the biggest impact.

If he did jump into the race, Steyer would have at his disposal the more than 6 million person email list from his Need to Impeach campaign against President Donald Trump, as well as the resources of his advocacy group, NextGen America.

Steyer resisted comparisons between his efforts and Bloomberg’s and argued that the former mayor — he recently re-registered as a Democrat — “has tried to be very bipartisan” and hasn’t always supported the party. Bloomberg gave almost exclusively to Democrats during the 2018 cycle.

“We’re really trying to build a grassroots infrastructure and the broadest democracy, and he’s much more focused on winning specific races,” Steyer said. “We’re making a long-term commitment and building an organization. One of the things I say, which I think is true, is that we didn’t just get young people to vote. We turned them into voters. They’ll hopefully think of themselves very differently in 2020.”

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