2020 Vision: As Bloomberg tests waters, rivals say come on in

Welcome to 2020 Vision, the Yahoo News column covering the presidential race. Reminder: There are 87 days until the Iowa caucuses and 361 days until the 2020 presidential election.

If former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg really does run for president this time — after filing a just-in-case ballot application in Alabama on Thursday, a day before the deadline — his prospective rivals say they’re not worried.

After all, there are richer people than Bloomberg in America. Not many, though.

The New York Times reported that Bloomberg had submitted paperwork to appear on the ballot in Alabama, which holds its primary in March on Super Tuesday but has the earliest deadline for filing. Axios followed up by saying that the billionaire would “spend whatever it takes” in the race and would be moving forward with registration in other states with early deadlines. Bloomberg has floated the possibility of his entering the presidential race repeatedly over the years, including drawing up plans in 2016 to run as a third-party candidate if the race came down to Sen. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

As recently as March he said he would not be running in 2020. He will be 78 next Election Day.

“The billionaire class is scared and they should be scared,” tweeted Sanders after the recent Times report about Bloomberg was published.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whose rise is seen as one of the reasons Bloomberg is considering a run, was supportive of the man with an estimated $52 billion in net worth entering the race.

“Welcome to the race, @MikeBloomberg! If you're looking for policy plans that will make a huge difference for working people and which are very popular, start here,” said Warren, linking to a calculator that shows Bloomberg would pay $3 billion — each year, assuming his worth stays the same — if her wealth tax were passed. Warren’s plan kicks in at 1 percent for assets over $50 million, and 2 percent above $1 billion. 

A billionaire is already running in the Democratic primary, investor Tom Steyer.

Former Vice President Joe Biden also welcomed Bloomberg to the race.

“Michael’s a solid guy,” Biden told reporters on Friday. “Let’s see where it goes.”

The former vice president dismissed a suggestion that Bloomberg is mounting a bid because of his own shaky campaign.

“In terms of he’s running because of me, the last polls I looked at I’m pretty far ahead,” Biden said. “I have no problem with him getting in the race.”

President Trump and Michael Bloomberg. (Photo: Evan Vicci/AP, John Locher/AP)

President Trump also didn’t seem bothered by the entry of a man who — even taking Trump’s worth at his own estimate, which outside analysts (such as Bloomberg News) consider wildly inflated — could buy and sell him multiple times over.

“I know Michael, he became just a nothing,” said Trump on Friday morning. “He was really a nothing. He’s not going to do well, but I think he’s gonna hurt Biden, actually. But he doesn’t have the magic to do well. Little Michael will fail. He’ll spend a lot of money. He’s got some really big issues. He’s got some personal problems. And he’s got a lot of other problems. But I know Michael Bloomberg fairly well, not too well, fairly well, well enough — he will not do very well. And if he did, I’d be happy. There is nobody I’d rather run against than little Michael, that I can tell you.”

Trump isn’t the only one who thinks a Bloomberg run might hurt Biden. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Biden supporter who’s previously attacked Warren, told NPR that he was worried about Bloomberg and Biden potentially splitting the moderate vote, and that he both thinks and hopes the former mayor is keeping options open as he sees how the Biden campaign progresses.

“I’m a big Bloomberg fan. If he’s the alternative and Joe was for some reason or another not in the race or didn’t have a chance to win, I’d be all for him,” said Rendell, before adding, “Joe’s not going anywhere.”

According to Axios, there is “no way” Bloomberg would consider a third-party run, which could aid Trump’s reelection changes.

A Bloomberg adviser told CNN that internal polling wasn’t great, hedging, “It’s not strong but it’s not zero either.” Public polling on Bloomberg is limited, but a March survey of Iowa Democrats found him at 38 percent disapproval, 27 percent approval. He did receive plaudits from Democrats following Tuesday’s state legislature races in Virginia, where his gun safety group Everytown donated $2.5 million.

Bloomberg served three terms as mayor of New York City, from 2002 to 2013, running first as a Republican and then as an independent, before registering as a Democrat in 2018. Since leaving office, he has faced criticism for how black and Hispanic residents were treated by his “stop-and-frisk” police policy and his skepticism of the #MeToo movement. If reports that Bloomberg plans to self-fund his campaign and not take donations are accurate, he would not qualify for Democratic primary debates under the current rules, which require a minimum threshold in both individual donors and polling numbers.

Investor and presidential candidate Tom Steyer. (Photo: Miguel Martinez/Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

Steyer campaign in hot water over ethics in two key states 

Billionaire Tom Steyer was one of the last entrants into the presidential race, but by investing $50 million of his own money he reached the polling and fundraising thresholds necessary to make the debate stage. While he hasn’t hit double digits in any polling, it’s been a solid enough launch for Steyer, who before he entered the campaign was a highly visible advocate for Trump’s impeachment.

This week the campaign hit a rocky patch and found itself involved in two embarrassing controversies in the earliest voting states. First, Steyer’s South Carolina deputy state director Dwane Sims resigned after the Democratic National Committee caught him attempting to download contact information for thousands of volunteers collected by Sen. Kamala Harris’s campaign. 

The Steyer campaign said that the database breach was inadvertent and that officials were aware only because the campaign itself had notified them, but both the DNC and the South Carolina Democratic Party denied that. Sims previously worked for the state Democratic Party in South Carolina, giving him access to the data each campaign gathers on voters and volunteers. A DNC spokesperson told the (Charleston) Post and Courier, which first reported the breach, that Sims is now permanently banned from the voter file and all Democratic Party systems.

“The Steyer campaign takes this issue very seriously,” campaign manager Heather Hargreaves said in a statement. “When we first learned about the matter, we conducted an internal investigation and wiped Mr. Sims’ computer to make sure the data was completely deleted and that there was no access to other campaign data. We understand the sensitivity and importance of this information.”

“We apologize to the South Carolina Democratic Party and the DNC,” continued Hargreaves. “Tom Steyer and the Steyer campaign extend our deepest apology to Senator Kamala Harris and her campaign.”

[Who’s running for president? Click here for Yahoo News’ 2020 tracker]

On Thursday, another controversy hit as the Associated Press reported that a Steyer adviser in Iowa was offering campaign contributions in exchange for endorsements. Multiple sources told the Associated Press that Pat Murphy, a former state House speaker, was suggesting to state legislators that support of Steyer would result in donations. The donations would not be illegal as long as the recipient was disclosed on campaign finance reports, but they lend credibility to accusations that Steyer is attempting to buy the nomination.

“It was presented more as, he has provided financial support to other down-ballot candidates who’ve endorsed him, and could do the same for you,” said Iowa state Rep. Karin Derry, who added that no specific dollar amount was mentioned.

Tom Courtney, a former Democratic state senator running for reelection to his old seat, said the offer “left a bad taste in my mouth.”

“Tom, I know you’re running for Senate. I’m working for Tom Steyer,” Courtney said he heard from Murphy. “Now you know how this works. ... He said, ‘You help them, and they’ll help you.’”

Murphy didn’t deny the offers were made, saying in a statement, “It was never my intention to make my former colleagues uncomfortable, and I apologize for any miscommunication on my part.”

Steyer’s campaign said the candidate hadn’t made any individual contributions in Iowa this year and wasn’t planning to, adding, “Our campaign policy is clear that we will not engage in this kind of activity, and anyone who does is not speaking for the campaign or does not know our policy.”

“We haven’t given any money to anyone in Iowa, nor are we planning to,” said Steyer during a Thursday campaign stop in South Carolina. “There’s no way we would ever do that.”

President Trump with then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2017. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP, File)

Sessions launches Senate bid by highlighting loyalty to Trump

Appointing Jeff Sessions as attorney general was the “biggest mistake” of his presidency, according to Donald Trump, who fired the former Alabama senator in 2018 after publicly attacking, insulting and mocking him for recusing himself from overseeing the Justice Department’s Russia investigation. 

Now Sessions wants to regain his Senate seat, which was captured by Democrat Doug Jones in a special election in 2017. Is he plotting his revenge against the president who spent a year humiliating him?

Not exactly. Sessions launched his campaign with an ad touting his loyalty to and support of the president, who “is doing a great job for America.”

“When I left President Trump’s Cabinet, did I write a tell-all book? No,” Sessions says in the 30-second spot. “Did I go on CNN and attack the president? Nope. Have I said a cross word about President Trump? Not one time. And I’ll tell you why. First, that would be dishonorable. I was there to serve his agenda, not mine. Second, the president is doing a great job for America and Alabama, and he has my strong support.”

Sessions will have competition for the Republican nomination, including from Roy Moore, the controversial former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, who lost to Jones amid allegations of inappropriate conduct with young women and is seeking a rematch.

Appearing on Fox News Thursday night, Sessions defended the decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe.

“I did the thing that I had to do about rules and the Department of Justice,” he told host Tucker Carlson. “The senior advisers told me that this is what the rules require, the regulations required, and I read them, and I don’t think there was any doubt from me. But I know how painful it was for the president. The whole thing was very painful for him. And he saw this as a pivotal moment. But painful and prolonged as it was, it did clear him of Russian collusion, and I’m certainly glad that that finally happened.”

When asked by Carlson if he thought his support for Trump would be reciprocated by the White House, Sessions replied: “I hope so.”

The president, for his part, has been noncommittal.

“I saw he said very nice things about me last night,” Trump said when asked by reporters on the South Lawn Friday if he would endorse Sessions, adding: “We’ll see.”

President Trump talks to televangelist Paula White after an event to celebrate a national day of prayer at the White House on May 2. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

White House spiritual adviser says Trump is running to defeat Satan

President Trump has, at various times, said he could beat each of the leading Democratic candidates, calling them out by name (or nickname, such as “Pocahontas”). But Paula White, the televangelist recently named to head the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, says the real contest in 2020 is against the toughest opponent of all, the Prince of Darkness, Satan himself.

Teaming up with other Christian right leaders, White this week began a movement she calls “One Voice Prayer,” intended to enlist believers to pray that “any persons [or] entities that are aligned against the president will be exposed and dealt with and overturned by the superior blood of Jesus.”

“We know that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities, powers, rulers of darkness of this age, hosts of wickedness in heavenly places,” she continued. 

It remains to be seen whether Trump will begin calling his rivals “hosts of wickedness in heavenly places,” but if he does, it would make “Crazy Bernie” or “Sleepy Joe” sound mild by comparison.

— Jerry Adler

Sen. Bernie Sanders is introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during a campaign rally in Queens, N.Y., in October. (Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP)

Calendar

Friday, Nov. 8: Sen. Bernie Sanders will host the first of three weekend rallies with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., in Iowa. On Saturday, they will host a climate crisis summit in Des Moines.

Saturday, Nov. 9: President Trump will attend a college football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where the Alabama Crimson Tide will host Louisiana State University.

Monday, Nov. 11: Trump will speak at a ceremony commemorating the 100th annual New York City Veterans Day Parade.

Sunday, Nov. 17: Sanders will return to Las Vegas for the first time since his heart attack to participate in the Nevada State Democratic Party’s “First in the West” dinner.


Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

Verbatim

“I never heard anything in my time as vice president about the 25th Amendment. And why would I?”

— Vice President Mike Pence, in New Hampshire to formally register the Trump campaign for the state’s Republican primary, responding to an allegation in an anonymous White House official’s upcoming book that Pence would have supported invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office if other Cabinet members did

“We should ban prescription drug ads on TV. Virtually no other developed countries allow them. They do nothing to make us healthier and stronger. All they do is make the drug companies more money by stimulating demand.”

— Andrew Yang, in a tweet Thursday

“There’s nobody I’d rather run against than little Michael.”

— President Trump, speaking to reporters Friday, on former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s potential presidential bid

“We must also recognize that freedom’s never guaranteed. ... It doesn’t just happen. Today, authoritarianism is just a stone’s throw away.”

— Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in Germany, during a ceremony Friday commemorating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall

“I think the next 362 days is going to be a war every day to destroy you, your family, your dad with lies.”

— Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday to Donald Trump Jr.

“I caught the swamp, I caught them all. Nobody else could have done that except me.”

— Trump to reporters at the White House on Friday

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