Mike Bloomberg returns to Utah after taking fire in tense debate

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg, the multibillionaire former New York City mayor, made his second visit to Utah on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020 to campaign ahead of the state's primary on Super Tuesday.

On the heels of his debate-stage debut in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, former New York City mayor and billionaire presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg made his second in-person appeal to Utah voters that they fill in the bubble next to his name on Super Tuesday.

The event, held Thursday in downtown Salt Lake City, comes as the 78-year-old rises in the polls despite his unconventional route to pursue the Democratic nomination. But the candidate also faces increased scrutiny over his comments about women and members of the LGBTQ community and the way his policies as mayor impacted people of color.

Bloomberg, who ran into attacks from his opponents on all sides at the debate Wednesday night, characterized that experience as like being “a Utah fan in Provo during the ‘holy war.’ ” And on Thursday, he worked to contrast himself with the more liberal candidates in the race, painting himself as a moderate who can build the broad coalition needed to make President Donald Trump a one-term president.

“The real winner in the debate last night was Donald Trump," the candidate said, speaking to a group of more than 500 people at Venue 6SIX9, an event space in downtown Salt Lake City. “Because I worry that we may very well be on our way to nominating someone that can’t win in November. And if we choose a candidate who appeals to a small base like Senator [Bernie] Sanders, it will be a fatal error. We need Democrats and independents and Republicans to win.”

During his short speech, Bloomberg highlighted several progressive platforms, promising to reinstitute an estate tax, lower prescription drug prices, fix the country’s broken immigration system, promote common-sense gun laws and protect a woman’s right to choose — but he was relatively light on the details of how he would accomplish those things.

Instead, the candidate pointed to his record as New York City mayor to make the case that he has the experience needed to, as his campaign slogan reads, “Get it done.”

While other candidates “talk about raising teacher salaries,” for example, Bloomberg said he boosted them 43% as mayor. While others call for an end to gun violence, he said he cut murders by 50% in the country’s largest city. And amid conversations about stemming climate change, Bloomberg says the Big Apple’s carbon footprint went down 13% under his leadership.

“I have taken on the toughest fights," he said, “and I’ve won."

Salt Lake City resident Annette Martin, who lined up in the frigid cold for more than 1½ hours before the event was scheduled to start, said she sees Bloomberg as the best candidate to beat Trump.

“I don’t mind that he’s spending all this money — which he has, he’s not asking for any donations — for one purpose,” to beat Trump, she said. “He’s had years and years of experience being mayor of New York, far more than our president in politics, and I like him.”

As a presidential candidate, Bloomberg has effectively ignored all four primary elections ahead of Super Tuesday, March 3, when 14 states and American Samoa will cast ballots.

In the meantime, he’s poured millions into ad buys, including in Utah, where he’s spent an estimated $2.23 million as of Wednesday afternoon, according to FiveThirtyEight. That database shows fellow billionaire Tom Steyer is the only other candidate who has made ad buys in Utah — his to the tune of $17,000.

It makes sense that candidates wouldn’t put too much money in a state that hasn’t chosen a Democratic nominee for president since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. But Bloomberg, who has previously said voters in the state have “been ignored by national Democrats for too long," reiterated his commitment Thursday to change that and to flip Utah blue.

“Ben McAdams proved that a Democrat can win a congressional seat here," he said. "Mitt Romney proved that the Trump fever in the Republican Party can break here. And in November, we’re going to prove that a Democratic nominee for president can win here statewide.”

Bloomberg has drawn several endorsements from high-profile Utahns, most notably from McAdams.

The candidate’s Utah state director, Lauren Littlefield, noted before he came onstage that Bloomberg has the largest campaign operation of any presidential campaign in the state, with 20 full-time staffers, two offices and hundreds of volunteers.

While Bloomberg has largely gained the support of moderate Democrats in the run-up to November’s election, he’s also appealing to self-described “disaffected Republicans,” such as 22-year-old Drew Capener from Provo.

The Brigham Young University student said he would likely vote for the Republican nominee in a different presidential election but noted he’s “not behind Trump.”

“We’re trying to find our way,” he said of fellow conservatives who feel similarly. “Which I think [attending the Bloomberg event] is part of that for me.”

Bloomberg isn’t the only candidate to visit Utah in advance of Super Tuesday.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, is scheduled to hold four campaign events over the weekend and former Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg drew a big crowd in Salt Lake City on Monday. Former Vice President Joe Biden held a fundraiser in Park City in September, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren hosted a campaign event in April.

On the Republican side, former Gov. Bill Weld of Massachusetts is slated to visit Salt Lake City and Provo on Friday. Trump has not returned to Utah during the current election cycle but did campaign here in 2016.