In Underdog Story, Single-Digit Billionaire Buys Way Into December Debate

It isn’t the size of your fortune but how you use it. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Tom Steyer’s presidential campaign wasn’t born on third base. Unlike some other Democratic candidates, the humble hedge-fund manager didn’t enter the 2020 race with national name recognition, his own journalistic empire, or a multibillion-dollar personal fortune. In fact, Steyer’s wealthiest intraparty rival could afford to buy up every last thing he owns more than 30 times over.

And yet, through hard work, determination, and $63 million in television ad buys, this salt-of-the-earth, single-digit billionaire has earned his place on the Democratic debate stage in December, while Michael “Moneybags” Bloomberg has not.

To qualify for Blue America’s next oratorical smackdown in Los Angeles, candidates had to either hit 4 percent in four national polls approved by the DNC, or 6 percent in two early primary-state polls, while also securing campaign contributions from at least 200,000 donors. Steyer had already assembled the necessary polls before this week. And on Tuesday morning, his campaign announced that it had cleared the donor threshold.

Steyer is the seventh candidate to qualify for the December debate stage, where he will join Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. Other candidates have until December 12 to hit their marks.

Bloomberg, for his part, appears poised to outshine Steyer in their vote-buying contest. Last week, the megabillionaire (whose net worth is estimated at $54.6 billion, dwarfing Steyer’s piddling $1.6 billion) launched a $30 million ad blitz, the most expensive single week of campaign advertising in the history of presidential primaries.

In return, Bloomberg saw his support in national polls more than double to over 5 percent. Morning Consult’s tracking poll currently puts Bloomberg in a tie for fifth place with Kamala Harris; Steyer, meanwhile, is in a four-way tie for eighth with 2 percent support. But the former New York mayor has sworn off all campaign contributions, and is thus incapable of qualifying for any of the remaining Democratic debates, barring a change in the rules. And although Steyer is not registering much in national polls, in the early primary states — which he has inundated with paid messaging — Morning Consult has him at 9 percent, just three points behind Elizabeth Warren.

In Underdog Story, Lesser Billionaire Buys Way Into Debate