Billionaire Michael Bloomberg held a series of private meetings with top Iowa Democrats this week during a multi-city swing through the first presidential state, a sign that the New York billionaire is taking a hard look at a 2020 campaign.
The former New York City mayor met with Iowa’s Democratic Party chair Troy Price on Wednesday, Price confirmed to POLITICO. Bloomberg also met with former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack — a one-time presidential contender himself — earlier this week, as well as with longtime Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.
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Miller, a consistent top vote-getter in the state, provided a key early endorsement to Barack Obama in 2007, helping him get traction in Iowa in his successful 2008 bid there against Hillary Clinton.
Bloomberg had billed the visit to Iowa as an opportunity to screen a new documentary on climate change, “Paris to Pittsburgh,” and held a roundtable discussion on the topic.
But Bloomberg, who spent more than $100 million in 2018 to help Democratic campaigns, also took clear steps to test the state’s political waters. In addition to sitting with top party officials, Bloomberg had discussions with Democratic stakeholders in different parts of the state, including in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, where he asked questions about the state’s political landscape and caucus dynamics.
Facilitating the meetings was top Iowa political operative Matt Paul, often seen as the go-to person in the state for potential presidential contenders.
“Mike met with a variety of Iowans both in the eastern part of the state and central Iowa, including some party leaders, legislators and small business owners,” Paul told POLITICO. “Mike has said he’s looking seriously at this and wanting to talk with Iowans of a number of different backgrounds and [having] brief conversations with them, is part of that.”
Paul said Bloomberg asked what factors to consider for a presidential run in the caucus state and sought to learn more about Iowa’s political dynamics.
“These are conversations that have happened or are happening” with a number of major potential presidential candidates, Paul said.
A spokesman for Bloomberg declined to comment for this story.
A visit to the first presidential state is the latest move Bloomberg has made as he considers a run for president. Earlier this year, Bloomberg registered as a Democrat, changing his party registration from Independent. Earlier this week, he said he would consider selling his company if he runs for president.
“I do think that after 12 years in City Hall, dealing with international problems and security problems and economic problems and creating jobs and the environment and guns and women’s rights and tobacco and these things, that I have a lot of experience which would be useful if I was president of the United States,” said Bloomberg Tuesday in interview with CNN. “It’s one thing to say something, it’s a different thing to have actually done it.”
Bloomberg has been a forceful critic of the president, and disparaged him during a speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, where he endorsed Hillary Clinton. “Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s run his business? God help us. I’m a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one,” Bloomberg said.
President Donald Trump mocked Bloomberg’s presidential ambitions last week, dismissing the former mayor with a derisive nickname.
“I’d love to run against Little Michael,” Trump said. “I’d love to run against Michael. I don’t know if he’s going to run, but I’d love it.”
In August, however, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said Bloomberg would be his toughest challenger because of his name recognition and personal assets. “Mike Bloomberg created tens of thousands of jobs over the course of his lifetime,” Lewandowski said. “That is a story the American people like and he’s an outsider. I think it would be a very competitive race.”
The timing of Bloomberg’s visit stands out at a time when rumors are flying about who’s in and who’s out of what’s expected to be a sprawling Democratic field. This week alone, lawyer Michael Avenatti dropped out of the race Tuesday and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced Thursday he would not run.
While a string of high-profile Democrats — from Sen. Bernie Sanders to former Vice President Joe Biden — wore out a path to Iowa before the midterms, few presidential prospects have visited the state since the November elections.
Among the exceptions are Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who last week spoke to the Iowa Farm Bureau, and Maryland Rep. John Delaney, who has had a steady presence in the state. Later this month, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, and Rep. Eric Swalwell of California will attend a holiday event held by Progress Iowa, a statewide progressive organization.