Michael Bloomberg Is Making A Big Bet In Ohio

The former New York City mayor is accepting the endorsement of Akron’s mayor and unveiling a plan to help old industrial cities transition to new economies.

Michael Bloomberg is doing something other Democratic candidates for president aren’t as they prepare for next month’s Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary: camping out in later-voting states such as Ohio. And the strategy is yielding some early results.

Akron Mayor Daniel Horrigan, who leads the kind of modernizing industrial city that can fit neatly into a campaign message, told BuzzFeed News that he will endorse Bloomberg this week.

“Whether its gun violence, or opiates, or equity, all those things a mayor has to tackle on a daily basis, he has done,” Horrigan said of the billionaire business magnate and former New York City mayor. “The platform is literally a metro dream. We’re looking for partners in the White House.”

The endorsement coincides with a Wednesday night event scheduled in Akron, where Bloomberg will visit an old tire factory that’s been turned into a business incubator for entrepreneurs. Bloomberg also will announce a proposal to use federal money and resources to promote “growth hubs” in cities across the country, particularly those similar to Akron, where the local economy has transitioned from rubber making to polymer engineering.

Bloomberg advisers believe his emphasis on Ohio, which has a March 17 primary, and other states that hold nominating contests after February shows he is making more of an effort to reach voters in general election battlegrounds and in states and regions where Democrats have lost ground to Donald Trump Republicans. In recent weeks Bloomberg has been to California, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. And besides Akron, Bloomberg’s travels this week to introduce his Future Jobs Plan will take him to Illinois, a Democratic gimme, and Minnesota, an increasingly competitive state that Trump is targeting.

These places also could be decisive in picking the Democratic nominee if the field remains unsettled after the first four contests — a scenario Bloomberg is banking on.

“The Bloomberg campaign is focusing on communities Democrats have lost touch with over the past few election cycles,” said Erin McPike, a spokesperson for the campaign. “We're showing up, not writing them off.”

This week’s trip will be Bloomberg’s second to Ohio in less than three weeks. In December he visited Chillicothe, a town of about 21,000 that’s been somewhat of a bellwether in an otherwise deeply Republican part of the state. He was joined for a roundtable discussion on the opioid crisis by that city’s young mayor, Luke Feeney, who spoke at the 2016 Democratic convention and is viewed as a rising star in state politics. Feeney, who has not yet endorsed a candidate, also had coffee with Bloomberg.

“The conversation bounced around but it was a good one,” Feeney told BuzzFeed News in a telephone interview. “The roundtable that we did — it was an interesting experience. By and large he did a lot of listening. It was a room that was a little bit difficult to be in, because you had people who had been through a lot. People who had lost a spouse, a child.”

Feeney also introduced Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at an event she held last year in Chillicothe but said the difference between her visit and Bloomberg’s was striking. “Hers was closer to — not a rally, but felt more like a campaign event.”

Despite entering the race late, Bloomberg, with his personal fortune, already has hired an Ohio staff of about 50. State director Aaron Pickrell is one of Ohio’s most experienced operatives in recent presidential cycles, having helped run Barack Obama’s winning campaigns there and Hillary Clinton’s eight point loss to Donald Trump in 2016. (Greg Schultz, who worked alongside Pickrell in 2012, is Joe Biden’s national campaign manager.)

“It’s really cool because Bloomberg is committed to running a campaign that you need to win in Ohio,” Pickrell told BuzzFeed News. “You have to run in every corner of the state. It’s great to do these campaigns where you really have the campaign and the infrastructure to win.”

The Horrigan endorsement is helpful, Pickrell said, because it gives Bloomberg a prominent supporter in a city that shares a large media market with Cleveland. And Horrigian, recently elected to a second term as mayor, was previously an elected countywide official in a county — Summit — that is split among four congressional districts in northern Ohio.

“Mayor Horrigan is a very pragmatic, very progressive, very aggressive mayor,” Pickrell said. “To have him as a validator and as an advocate is great for us.”

Horrigan had previously endorsed Rep. Tim Ryan, whose district stretches into Summit County. Horrigan said he heard from a couple of other candidates after Ryan dropped out of the presidential race in October. He was already familiar with Bloomberg’s work as a mayor and in philanthropy and said his choice is not a slight against anyone else running.

“I will carry his message across Akron and the state of Ohio if I can be a useful messenger,” Horrigan said. “I think it’s a great message for cities across the country.”

Other Democratic candidates are courting Ohio mayors. Dayton’s Nan Whaley and Cincinnati’s John Cranley have backed Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Youngstown’s Jamael Tito Brown and Parma’s Tim DeGeeter have endorsed Biden.

The Akron visit is tied to this week’s unveiling of Bloomberg’s Future Jobs Plan, a component of which focuses on promoting entrepreneurship in depressed agricultural and manufacturing regions. In his remarks at the old B.F. Goodrich tire factory that’s now home to the Bounce Innovation Hub, Bloomberg is expected to pledge more investment for research and development in cities looking to grow into new economic sectors and more support for public/private partnerships like those that have worked in Akron. Under the program, cities would compete to be designated growth hubs by an independent commission. Bloomberg’s program would prioritize infrastructure upgrades, direct research grants, early-stage financing, and initiatives to address wealth disparities.

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