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Bloomberg Says His Wealth Won't Turn Off Maine Democratic Voters: 'I Don't Need A Tax Break'

Steve Mistler
Maine Public
Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg stands at the center of a crowd during a campaign stop Monday in Portland.

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg made a brief stop in Maine Monday to promote his run for the presidency.

Bloomberg is a late entrant in the Democratic primary, but he’s known for his advocacy for gun safety laws and fighting climate change. And his candidacy, in some ways, parallels that of the president he hopes to unseat in November.

Bloomberg kicked off his whirlwind trip to Maine the same way many other political candidates and celebrities do - a quick lap around Becky's Diner in Portland to shake hands with local leaders and a photo op for the reporters crammed near the lunch counter.

The former New York City mayor was greeted by Portland Mayor Kate Snyder, former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci and also former 2nd District Congressman Mike Michaud.

Michaud last week endorsed Bloomberg, and explained why during a press event at a new campaign office in Scarborough.

"We need a leader who is willing to put aside political differences, restore dignity to the office and unite the American people. And that person is Mike Bloomberg," Michaud says.

Michaud is wearing a pin that says "I like Mike."  But it's not new. It's actually an old piece of campaign memorabilia from Michaud's unsuccessful bid six years ago to defeat Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who is often described as the prototype to President Donald Trump.

Michaud's message then was very similar to Bloomberg's now - that the only candidate who can defeat a norm-busting, divisive incumbent is a centrist, someone pragmatic and not too radical.

Bloomberg says he doesn't see those qualities in the other Democratic challengers. "It's because I just looked at the candidates and I didn't see them being able to beat Donald Trump, nor did I see them having any practical programs that would get through Congress and that we can afford."

Bloomberg entered the race in November, long after other top challengers, like former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

He's skipping the early primary caucus states, including Iowa and New Hampshire, but he's already eclipsing his rivals in advertising spending - more than a quarter billion dollars so far.
Bloomberg is self-financing his campaign, much like Trump mostly did four years ago.

"I’m not using the lobbyists. I’m not using donors," Trump said in 2015. "I don’t care. I’m really rich, I’ll show you that in a second."

And, like Trump did, Bloomberg is framing his immense wealth as independence from special interests, in ads like this one airing in Maine.

"Mike Bloomberg has never taken a dime from special interests because as New York's three-term mayor he's always worked for the people's interests. He won't be seeking a single donation during this campaign. Not one. Because the only people Mike intends to owe anything to are the voters," the ad narrator says.

But Bloomberg's ability to self-finance a belated but furious campaign blitz comes amid a Democratic primary contest that's often highlighted economic inequality. It's been a focus for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who vowed a dramatic overhaul during a campaign rally in Portland over Labor Day weekend.

"We are going to end the austerity programs imposed on working families and bring a little austerity to the 1 percent," Sanders declared.

Sanders' message has won him a fiercely loyal following, often reshaping the debates during the Democratic primary and raising questions about whether Democratic voters can be won over by one of the richest people on Earth.

Just as Bloomberg entered the race, an old photo of Trump, Bloomberg and other celebrities playing golf went viral and inspired an essay in the New Republic called "The vainglorious eternals go golfing."

But Bloomberg is quick to separate himself from a president whose charitable endeavors have drawn charges of self-dealing.  During his speech in Scarborough, he highlighted his efforts to fund efforts to fight climate change, gun safety and help Democrats flip the House of Representatives.

Bloomberg says he would take a similar approach in the White House - unlike its current occupant. "The way Donald Trump spells team there's no 't,' 'e,' 'a,' or 'm.' He's left the 'I' in it," he says.

And, in a brief interview, Bloomberg rejected the idea that his wealth might hurt him with some Democratic primary voters.

"Why don't you take a look at when I was mayor of New York City? I raised taxes dramatically on the wealthy," he says. "So I have a record of doing that. I came out against the legislation that was passed one or two years ago. We do not - I don't need a tax break," he says.

Bloomberg's wealth isn't a deterrent for undecided Democrats like Mary Jones, of Yarmouth. She sees it as a potential strength, especially if Bloomberg can catch fire in the polls. "Well, he has a ton of money and he can probably afford to hire a ton of consultants and run a good operation," she says.

It's too early to say whether Bloomberg's candidacy is poised for a surge like he experienced during his first mayoral race - a race many predicted he'd lose.

But Bloomberg has already drawn outsized attention from President Trump, who repeatedly insults the former mayor's height. "There is nobody I'd rather run against than Little Michael, that I can tell you," Trump said in November.

Bloomberg doesn't seem to mind the president's insults.  At times he seems to enjoy - even seek out - Trump's attention. During a gaggle with reporters in Scarborough, Bloomberg, a former Republican who supported Hillary Clinton, talked about his congratulatory phone call to the president-elect shortly after the 2016 election.

"And we had a pleasant conversation. I said, 'Hire people who are smarter than you,' and he said they're aren't any," Bloomberg says. And then Bloomberg delivered the jab. "He did give me his private cell phone number, which I didn't bother to write down. And I've never talked to him since."

Bloomberg and his team departed Maine shortly thereafter. He vowed to keep his campaign offices open in Maine even if he doesn't win the Democratic primary, and also to financially support whoever becomes the nominee.

Maine Democrats will have a say in that contest come March 3, Super Tuesday.

Originally published Jan. 28, 2020 at 12:16 p.m. ET.