CBS News Face the Nation Moderator Margaret Brennan and political correspondent Ed O'Keefe report that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is planning to file paperwork on Friday to place his name on the ballot for the Alabama Democratic presidential primary next year, the first concrete signal that he is on the verge of launching a presidential campaign, according to a person familiar with his plans.
Bloomberg is set to make a final decision "in the near future," as soon as Monday, said a Democrat who recently spoke with the former mayor about his plans. But the person familiar with Bloomberg's planning disputed the timeline, saying, "It's not weeks and weeks away. It's soon." The person added, "He is actively taking steps to pursue a run." The media mogul is in New York on Friday and is not planning any public events or to conduct any interviews in the coming days as he makes a final decision about a presidential run.
Bloomberg, 77, is the proverbial political boy who cried wolf and has stoked speculation about a potential presidential campaign ever since 2008, when he first toyed with running as an independent. But after years of talk, this week he took action by dispatching aides to Alabama to collect the signatures required to appear on the ballot. The Cotton State has the earliest filing deadline for its presidential primary on Super Tuesday, March 3, and only requires collecting 500 signatures – an easy task for a well-financed candidate.
In addition to filing paperwork in Alabama, Bloomberg's team is "actively working" to meet Monday's filing deadline in Arkansas and next Friday's deadline in New Hampshire, the first state to hold a primary. Both states only require mailing in an application with a four-figure check.
On Friday, the leaders of the New Hampshire and Iowa Democratic parties issued a rare joint statement acknowledging Bloomberg's interest in the race – and encouraging him to show up to campaign. "We are excited that this Democratic presidential nomination contest has so many qualified candidates," the party chairmen said, adding later that "we are certain that Granite Staters, Iowans, and other early state voters are eager to ask Michael Bloomberg about his plans to move our states and our country forward. We hope that they will have that opportunity."
The party leaders spoke out as Bloomberg aides have signaled that he might forego Iowa and New Hampshire and focus instead on a more robust 50-state strategy. "Don't expect him to run a traditional campaign," said the person familiar, who was granted anonymity to speak frankly about the potential campaign's strategy. "Our playbook would be that on day one, we could be in Colorado or Alabama or California. We could be there with significant resources, with talent that we could build up in a more substantial way than others could in those states."
Aides are not concerned about raising money for the bid, because Bloomberg is worth at least $52 billion and plans to self-fund, at least at the start. He never took campaign donations during his three mayoral runs. Aides conceded, however, that Bloomberg would need to accept donations in order to meet the donor and polling thresholds required to appear on a debate stage alongside other contenders.
Bloomberg has already banked away the goodwill of Democrats nationwide. He rejoined the party last year and has spent millions of dollars to help elect Democratic congressional and state-level candidates. He did so again in recent weeks to help Virginia Democrats retake control of the state legislature in part by campaigning on a vow to stiffen the state's gun laws.
Already, Bloomberg is taking steps to reach out to members of the Democratic Party leadership. In South Carolina, CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell says Bloomberg has reached out to Stephen K. Benjamin, the mayor of Columbia, S.C., who said he thinks the New Yorker would be a welcomed addition to the field. Benjamin noted that there are already candidates who have business experience – Andrew Yang – who serve as mayors – Pete Buttigieg – and former candidates like Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who made climate change and gun control part of their platforms.
"I do know that there are folks who are right of center, center and left of center, who have been really, really, really struggling to attach themselves to someone who fires 'em up and brings 'em out," Benjamin said. "And then I know also, my friends on the other side of the aisle who really, really don't want to vote for Donald Trump, see themselves as potentially having diminishing options on the Democratic side of the aisle and that's just going to be key in so many swing states." Benjamin called Bloomberg "an early leader" in the national fight for stricter gun control and "a constant and passionate leader with mayors against illegal guns in every town and for some voters in our primary — I can't say the majority — but a significant cut out, you know, that's their number one issue."
In Nevada, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was among the party leaders Bloomberg called this week to inform them he was "thinking about running for president and thinking about running in the near future." They have spoken several times in the past. Reached briefly by phone Thursday, Reid told CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin, "I always had great admiration for the mayor. He's been on guns, there's been no one in the country better on doing something about gun violence, on firearms, than Michael Bloomberg." Reid added, "I think Bloomberg getting involved is not going to hurt anything."
CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga, political unit associate producer Ellee Watson and Face the Nation producer Jillian Hughes contributed to this report.
FROM THE CANDIDATES
Former Vice President Joe Biden added his name to the New Hampshire Primary ballot today, according to CBS News campaign reporters Bo Erickson and Nicole Sganga. Following his filing, Biden said he would "welcome" Michael Bloomberg into the Democratic primary contest. He continued, "Michael's a solid guy. And let's see where it goes. I have no, no problem with him getting into the race." In response to the suggestion that Bloomberg might be jumping in as a reaction to Biden's performance, the former vice president countered by saying he had strong "early state poll numbers." He later added, "If I'm not mistaken, I'm doing pretty well both relative to Trump and relative to all the people running in the Democratic primary."
Clarifying a recent Medium post that sharp words for Senator Elizabeth Warren, Biden said he did not intend to call the Massachusetts lawmaker "elitist." Biden remarked, "I said the American people out there, they understand what's going on." He later added, "To turn around and say to the millions of Democrats out there, that in fact, if you don't agree with me, then you are lacking courage or you are in somebody, you're not a Democrat, that is not how we run the Democratic Party."
Biden pushed back in response to reports of Senate Republican interest in calling him and his son, Hunter Biden, to testify as part of President Trump's impeachment inquiry. "This is about Donald Trump, not about me." Biden said. "There's not a single solitary thing that anybody has demonstrated that I didn't do my job as the representative of the United States of America, representing that position, the position of all of our allies, the position of the EU, the position in getting rid of a corrupt, corrupt prosecutor. That was simple. And I was hailed for at the time."
In Iowa, Biden's campaign said he is being endorsed by 10 local officials in Iowa, including six different mayors from across the state. "Iowans know that Joe Biden is the strongest candidate to beat Donald Trump next November," said Iowa State Director Jake Braun in a statement. "That's why leaders from across the state are coming forward to proudly show their support."
CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar also confirmed that Biden's campaign hired Iowa state Representative Ras Smith as his director of coalition building. Smith is one of the youngest members in the Iowa State House and a founding member of the Iowa Legislative Black Caucus. In June, the Iowa Democratic Party honored Smith as one of the party's rising stars during the Hall of Fame Dinner in Cedar Rapids.
In an interview with CBS News, Smith said it will be important to have a president who can be "effective on day one and really bridge the gap from where we are now to where we want to be as a country and I think Joe Biden is really the candidate that can do that." Smith said he doesn't see how other candidates who are making big promises can achieve their goals without relying heavily on executive orders, adding, "That is not going to get it done." Smith said Biden is not promising something he can't deliver or hasn't already delivered in his career. In his new role on the Biden campaign, Smith said he is looking forward to having face-to-face conversations Iowans and will "continue to push to make sure all perspectives are heard."
As Democratic candidates weigh in on a potential presidential bid by former New York mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker says a billionaire running speaks to the bigger issue of campaign finance. "I have a problem with the way we do campaign finance," said Booker during a gaggle in South Carolina earlier today. "I think it's a savagely broken system that people who have wealth can somehow leapfrog others who might be as viable and more viable candidates. We have to reform this broken campaign finance system."
Booker, who has made a dozen trips to the first-in-the-South primary state since launching his campaign, addressed a crowd of more than 100 voters at the College of Charleston's Bully Pulpit series on Friday and received a standing ovation after telling attendees to "get up, get on the field, and make sure that America wins" by voting for the best candidate this election. In a familiar message, CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell says Booker told the crowd that it's important for presidential candidates to talk about where they've been on key issues like climate change, and gun violence for the last 25 years. Booker will round out his second visit in two weeks by attending an environmental justice forum in Orangeburg later Friday evening and an office opening in Charleston Saturday morning.
Booker heads to Iowa on Saturday where his campaign announced 10 new endorsements on Friday. Among the endorsements are newly-elected local officials, including Wakuee Mayor-elect Courtney Clarke. CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar says Booker has helped down ballot elections in Iowa in the past and this week, his team in Iowa spent time door knocking across the state to help elect local Democrats.
In a statement, Booker's Iowa State Director Mike Frosolone said the Senator "continues to draw support from a broad coalition of Iowa leaders who are passionate about getting things done for their communities." Booker is back in Iowa for a two day trip starting Saturday with scheduled stops in Polk and Story counties. This will be the first time since launching his campaign in February that he will have made more than one visit to Iowa in the same month.
Andrew Yang filed this morning for the New Hampshire Primary this morning. He joked that the $1,000 filing fee is very "on brand" with his campaign. Yang's signature policy — "the Freedom Dividend" — grants $1,000 per month to every adult American. CBS News political unit associate producer Ben Mitchell and campaign reporter Nicole Sganga say Yang noted that he would be releasing his healthcare plan — along with its funding mechanism — in "days, not weeks." Yang told reporters in Concord, "I honestly think that the conversation around healthcare is missing the crucial point, which is that we're already spending. Eighteen percent of GDP, almost $4 trillion on our health care. And people are looking around saying, 'how are you going to pay for it?' We're already paying through the nose."
Asked about Michael Bloomberg entering the race, Yang said, "I'm friendly with Mike. He was a great mayor in New York City's and a tremendous philanthropist." He later added that he thought Bloomberg's reported approach to the primary season would prove an uphill climb. "There are some things that money cannot buy, and you can't replace thousands of conversations in Hampshire, and in the early states with advertising. It's just not possible. So, I welcome Mike into the race in the sense that he's a great American leader, and has a lot to offer. But I think he's got his work cut out for him, in part because of the process here in New Hampshire."
Campaign surrogates are flocking to northern Nevada this weekend, with Joe Biden's sister (Valerie Biden Owens), the husband of Kamala Harris (Doug Emhoff), and Cory Booker's mother (Carolyn Booker) slated to speak at this year's Elko Democrats Roosevelt/Kennedy fundraising dinner. Though far from the state's largest cities, campaigns are already ramping up for a fight in Elko. Elizabeth Warren's campaign is joining Pete Buttigieg in opening an office there this weekend. And Joe Biden is planning a stop in Elko next week, just the second candidate to campaign in the town of some 20 thousand this cycle.
"Most of the campaigns have active people here in the area. We've been working with both the Biden and Warren campaigns since probably well before the first debate," Steven Anderson, chair of the Elko Democrats, tells CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin.
ISSUES THAT MATTER
Six Democratic presidential hopefuls will convene in South Carolina Friday evening for the first-ever Environmental Justice Presidential forum. Senators Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, former Representative John Delaney, and billionaire Tom Steyer are among the candidates who will be in attendance.
The event, which is sponsored by the bipartisan National Black Caucus of State Legislators and other groups, will take place in the rural, traditionally Democratic city of Orangeburg at the historically black South Carolina State University. NBCSL President and state Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter says that it's important to host this event in Orangeburg because of the environmental struggles that plague voters in this region.
"It's important that we have this event in Orangeburg, particularly at South Carolina State University [because] Orangeburg has a lot of issues as far as environmental justice is concerned," said Cobb-Hunter. "We got problems with water and air and all of the other issues that face communities of color, black and brown across the country."
CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell says Democratic and Republican presidential candidates were invited to attend the event. Cobb-Hunter says that she's pleased that some presidential candidates have made this issue a priority and their attendance shows their commitment to the issue.
"It's just good to have candidates who are willing to not just 'talk the talk,' but 'walk the walk,' who are willing to come to an HBCU and talk about an issue that primarily impacts black and brown communities," said Cobb-Hunter. "The question that I think should be asked is for those candidates who claim to have so much interest and so many plans as far as environmental justice is concerned, it doesn't appear that that might be a priority so that's up to the voters to decide."
UP FOR DEBATE
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
After the Democratic party pulled its December presidential debate from the University of California Los Angeles over the college's dispute with a local union, organizers have announced a new venue for the sixth debate in the same city: Loyola Marymount University's Gersten Pavilion. CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin says the event will be the party's second debate in a Super Tuesday state, after the September debate in Texas. "We welcome the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to campus, continuing LMU's long-standing tradition of rigorous inquiry, debate, and civic engagement," the university's president Timothy Law Snyder said in a statement.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…
Here is a roundup of the Political Unit's reporting for CBSN and CBSNews.com this week:
· Monday Daily Trail Markers Segment // By Musadiq Bidar
· Wednesday Daily Trail Markers Segment // By Zak Hudak
· Thursday Daily Trail Markers Segment // By Musadiq Bidar
RED & BLUE
· 2020 hopefuls drive donations with creative merchandise // By Sarah Ewall-Wice
· Battle for small donors forces 2020 Democrats to get creative with merchandise // By Sarah-Ewall-Wice
· Democrats win control of House and Senate in Virginia // By Eleanor Watson
· Democrats could flip Virginia state legislature in critical election // By Eleanor Watson
· Republican Tate Reeves wins Mississippi's governor's race // By Aaron Navarro & Eleanor Watson