vision 2020

Which Rival Will Bloomberg Go After in His ‘Massive’ Ad Buy?

Michael Bloomberg throws some serious money into his new presidential race. Photo: Yana Paskova/Getty Images

This is the kind of news that can throw your well-wrought assumptions about the 2020 presidential contest into fearful disarray. It’s game-changey bread-and-meat for Politico, though:

In the latest sign Michael Bloomberg is prepared to spend freely on a prospective presidential bid, the billionaire has begun booking a huge quantity of TV ad time in media markets across the country — including the one that’s home to President Donald Trump’s winter White House, Mar-a-Lago.

The ads will begin airing as soon as Monday. One of the first ad buys was spotted in the West Palm Beach, Fla., media market, according to Advertising Analytics. As of 2:30 p.m., Advertising Analytics tracked buys in 32 different states across the country, with $19.4 million in reservations so far.

“This buy is MASSIVE,” Ben Taber, an analyst for the television ad tracking firm Advertising Analytics, said in an email to POLITICO. “I think it‘s going to be the biggest buy of all time,” he wrote. Then-President Barack Obama had a $30 million, one-week long buy in 2012, but Taber said this “seems like this might pass that for largest buy in one week.”

Crazy rich people have run for president before, but no one remotely as rich as Bloomberg, whose net worth is an estimated $52 billion — that’s billion with a “b.” In theory, he could dominate the airwaves in a completely unprecedented way:

“Bloomberg could spend more in one day than other presidential candidates spend in an entire campaign’s lifespan,” said Fernand Amandi, a Democratic consultant pollster who worked for President Obama’s campaigns. “What makes the Bloomberg campaign budget so amazing is that there is no budget. Everything is attainable … We haven’t seen a presidential campaign like one that Michael Bloomberg could run.”

These could be introductory positive ads. But there are indications they could be comparative, and that’s scary for somebody:

The buy is a minute-long spot, according numerous FCC filings, and will mention an opposing candidate. A filing from WFAA, a station based in Dallas, Texas, notes that the ad “mentions running against Trump 3x within creative,” in a handwritten note.

If it’s purely a pro-Bloomberg, anti-Trump ad, Democrats will be relieved. But if it compares him to, say, Elizabeth Warren (the feared enemy of the former mayor’s financial-sector friends) as a Trump opponent, there could be quite the brouhaha. Bloomberg has promised to run $100 million in digital ads that are strictly anti-Trump. But that’s out of an estimated budget of $500 million, which as noted above, could go much higher.

The grand Bloomberg strategy appears to be hoping that the rest of the field is partially winnowed and entirely out of money after the early states, enabling the ex-Republican to dominate the wide landscape of Super Tuesday states on March 3. Beyond that, who knows? Alex Pareene thinks Bloomberg (and Deval Patrick) may be gambling on a contested convention (I tend to disagree, but it’s an interesting theory). If Team Bloomberg’s real aim is to prevent the nomination of Warren or Bernie Sanders, it could wait to see what happens in the early states, or begin softening up the progressive wing of the field early on by hitting them with big sacks of money. We’ll know next week which way Bloomberg and his wallet are leaning, at least for the moment.

Which Rival Will Bloomberg Go After in His ‘Massive’ Ad Buy?