Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has qualified for a Democratic primary debate after a new poll put him at 19% support nationally, and you have to wonder if that’s a good thing or a bad thing for his campaign. Bloomberg has thus far avoided answering basically any questions, and now he will face a field of rivals eager for their chance to take apart some of the image Bloomberg has carefully created for himself with more than $300 million in ad spending.
Bloomberg qualified based solely on polling after the Democratic National Committee changed the rules to eliminate the requirement for a certain number of donors. Bloomberg had not qualified for previous debates in part because he isn’t accepting donations, instead running his campaign entirely on his own money. The rule change highlights how the DNC’s rules affected some candidates who’ve since exited the race, though at the same time, it would not be great for democracy if Bloomberg’s public image were entirely defined by his own advertising, with no challenges.
Bloomberg’s careful avoidance of anything resembling an unscripted moment doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be a debate pushover. In 2009, The New York Times reported that in his last mayoral debate, Bloomberg showed “the ferocity of a bulldog” and “turned almost every question put to him into an attack on his rival” (via Tom Watson). This time around, Bloomberg will have to decide whether it’s worth changing his focus from Donald Trump to his Democratic opponents; if he does, he’ll have to message against more than one person. Bloomberg will also be facing somewhat sharper debaters than he did in 2009.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders, and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg had previously qualified for the debate.