NASHVILLE—With less than three weeks until Tennessee's presidential primary, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg returned to Nashville Wednesday, seeking to energize locals to reaffirm his big gamble for Super Tuesday states.
Presenting himself as a unifying, coalition building, self-made businessman, Bloomberg once again argued he was an alternative option to the field of Democratic candidates seeking their party's nomination.
"My fellow Democrats in this race are all good people," he said, vowing to support whoever wins the party's nomination. "This election is just too important for our party to see the kind of divisions we saw in 2016."
Throughout his roughly 12-minute speech, Bloomberg peppered in several local references, including mentioning Goo Goo Clusters and hot chicken, while making his pitch to an audience of an estimated 1,100 people.
The crowd featured several prominent former and current elected Tennessee officials, including Metro Vice Mayor Jim Shulman, Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry, state Democratic Party chair Mary Mancini, Reps. London Lamar and Antonio Parkinson, and former House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.
Fitzhugh and Dean, who ran against one another in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, stood feet apart as Bloomberg spoke.
Bloomberg's latest visit, which was coupled with a stop in Chattanooga earlier in the day, came one day after the New Hampshire primary and two days after the release of an audio clip featuring controversial remarks he made in 2015 about his controversial stop and frisk policy.
“Ninety-five percent of your murders, murderers and murder victims fit one M.O.," he said during an Aspen Institute event. "You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops."
Before launching his presidential campaign, Bloomberg apologized for the stop and frisk policy, which disproportionately affected African Americans.
Faced with the remarks, which other candidates have seized on, Bloomberg downplayed them, telling The Tennessean before he took the stage at Rocketown, they were "off-the-cuff" and "indelicate."
"I think most of them have watched me over the years and know my true values," he said, adding voters should take a look at his experience while governing to "decide whether or not that's the real me."
During his speech, Bloomberg noted his unconventional campaign, which has taken him to 60 cities in 25 states over 11 weeks.
"The other candidates, they spend all their time in a couple of states that I wanted to enter but I came too late to go there," he said.
Like when he first came to Nashville in December, Bloomberg was briefly interrupted during his speech by a protester who yelled the former mayor had terrorized inner city youth.
The audience quickly drowned out the protester by chanting "Mike", allowing Bloomberg to continue. "I just want to thank him for making me feel like I was at home," he said.
Rather than mentioning any of his Democratic opponents by name, Bloomberg focused more on Trump, who he said was afraid of his candidacy.
"I want to be very clear about why I am here in this race," he said. "I am running to defeat Donald Trump."
Bloomberg argued he represented a candidate with workable, common-sense solutions who was unafraid to take on the president.
"He's not going to bully me and I won't let him bully you either," said Bloomberg.
Overall, Bloomberg focused on his credential to try to convince any last minute voters. He cited his work on education, climate change and gun safety while vowing to build on the Affordable Care Act, fix the nation's immigration system and create jobs.
"I offer a different choice and a different type of leadership," he said. "I need your help, I need your support and and I need your vote."
Beyond his speech, Bloomberg told The Tennessean he is preparing to participate in debates by reading and watching his competitors previous appearances on stage.
Asked if he is prepared to go on the offensive, as others have done in debates, he said, "My job is to explain what i would do and answer the questions and I'll leave the assassination attempts to others."
This article originally appeared on The Tennessean: Michael Bloomberg focuses on Donald Trump in his return to Nashville