WEST PALM BEACH, Florida — Michael Bloomberg’s return on investment turned out to be very small.
A late entry to the presidential race, Bloomberg skipped the first four early states and constructed his entire strategy around winning big on Super Tuesday, spending over $500 million to put himself into contention during those contests. But it didn’t pay off; his rival Joe Biden surged, and Bloomberg’s status in the race looks uncertain after Tuesday.
Despite the disappointing results and increasing pressure on him to drop out, the billionaire former mayor did not tell the audience here on Tuesday night that he would leave the race. He spent the day campaigning in Florida, which votes on March 17. Bloomberg was introduced by supporter Judy Sheindlin, the eponymous host of Judge Judy, and he spoke to a large ballroom audience in a convention center.
“If I’m the nominee, let me make you this promise: We will beat Donald Trump here in Florida and in swing states around the country,” Bloomberg said. “Tonight, the polls are still open in a number of Super Tuesday states. And as the results come in, here’s what is clear: No matter how many delegates we win tonight, we have done something no one thought was possible. In just three months, we’ve gone from 1% in the polls to being a contender for the Democratic nomination for president.”
Though Bloomberg’s campaign manager, Kevin Sheekey, told reporters earlier in the day that the candidate would “absolutely not” drop out on Tuesday, he also said the campaign would reassess based on the results. “I think you make an assessment in any campaign like this after every time there's a vote,” Sheekey said.
Sheekey left the door open to the idea that Super Tuesday could show that Bloomberg would not win the nomination. “We will find out how well he does tonight,” Sheekey said. “We will find out whether Mike Bloomberg is on his way to becoming the candidate, or we will find out that Mike Bloomberg is going to be the most important person to whomever that candidate will be.”
And after Bloomberg’s event, Sheekey put out a statement that didn’t say he was dropping out but also did not definitively say he would fight on. In the statement, Sheekey said, “We’ve built a nationwide coalition focused on building a better future for America, and that starts with defeating Donald Trump in November.” He pointed out that “only” one-third of delegates are awarded on Super Tuesday. But Sheekey also emphasized: "Our number one priority remains defeating Donald Trump in November."
Earlier this week, Bloomberg’s campaign announced events in Michigan and Florida following Super Tuesday. The campaign returned to New York on Tuesday night and has no public events scheduled for Wednesday.
Bloomberg strong-armed his way into the Democratic primary with an unprecedentedly massive ad spending campaign that raised his profile nationally. For a while, this boosted his poll numbers enough that he looked like a serious threat to capture the anti–Bernie Sanders vote.
But several factors converged to make everything go wrong for Bloomberg on Tuesday. His shaky performances on the debate stage shattered the carefully constructed image conveyed in his advertising, and Biden’s win in South Carolina gave the former vice president a surge at exactly the right time for Super Tuesday. Biden’s victory injected energy into his formerly moribund campaign and convinced fellow moderates Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg to drop out of the race and endorse him, consolidating against Sanders.
This cued wavering voters — many of whom are more focused on beating Trump than supporting any particular candidate — to go with Biden instead of Bloomberg. And it quickly became clear how tentative the former New York City mayor's support had been when news outlets called first Virginia and then North Carolina for Biden within seconds of polls closing, indicating that the former vice president had won by large margins. Biden also won other states into which Bloomberg poured huge amounts of resources, like Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Bloomberg did win American Samoa. As of Wednesday morning he is a distant third in the delegate-rich states of Texas and California, but at least with a chance of getting delegates out of each.
He spent Tuesday insisting he would stay in the race, becoming irritated with reporters who pressed him about whether he would do like other moderate candidates and drop out to endorse Biden in order to stop Sanders. The former mayor admitted that his only path to the nomination was through a contested convention.
And on Tuesday night, voters at his West Palm Beach event said they hoped he would fight on.
“I just hope he takes it all the way to the convention,” said Jean Belizaire, 52. “Biden’s a great guy, but he’s missing something. I don’t think he’s the strongest candidate.”
“Hopefully he’ll do better in the other states,” said Susanna Scavazzon, 47.
“I’ll still vote for him,” said Amy Bissinger, 39. “Delegate-wise, we still have wiggle room. We’re still waiting on California and Texas.”
“He is in the top three, thank god,” said Deborah Kinniry, 64. “I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that he said he was running so late. I’m hoping somehow he can change that around.”