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SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns will see new TV commercials in the 2020 presidential race starting Monday, part of what’s being called a huge nationwide media buy by Democrat Mike Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York City mayor expected to announce a run.
State lawmakers set Utah’s presidential primary election next year for Super Tuesday on March 3, the same day as voters in more than a dozen other states will go to the polls.
Bloomberg’s minutelong spot portrays him as someone who “could have just been the middle-class kid who made good. But Mike Bloomberg became the guy who did good” by building a global financial and media business, serving three terms as New York City mayor as well as fighting gun violence and climate change.
“Now he’s taking on him,” the commercial’s narrator says as a picture of President Donald Trump appears and fades to black and white, “to rebuild the country and restore the dream that defines us, where the wealthy will pay more in taxes and the middle class get their fair share,” including of health care and jobs.
The commercial ends by labeling Bloomberg as a jobs creator, leader and problem solver — and a candidate for president in 2020. Bloomberg has yet to officially announce he’s in the race, but filed paperwork for a presidential run with the Federal Election Commission this week.
On Friday, Bloomberg bought at least $30 million in airtime next week in TV markets in more than two dozen states, the New York Times reported, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Houston, Dallas and even Fargo, North Dakota.
Advertising Analytics, a company that tracks ad buys, tweeted that Bloomberg is “really flexing it. This buy is huge and just getting bigger,” and noted Bloomberg broke a spending record set by then-President Barack Obama in the final week of his 2012 race against the GOP nominee, Mitt Romney.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant said Bloomberg’s decision to spend money in Utah is a good sign.
“I’m heartened by the fact that he wants to do some advertising here and I think it’s about time that political candidates on both sides of the aisle start to invest in places like Utah,” Merchant said. He said he also believes the expenditures suggest Trump may be vulnerable, even in GOP-dominated Utah.
“It certainly shows that Democrats all over the state and all over the country see Donald Trump’s weakness. I think they’re putting their money where their mouth is. People aren’t going to spend money in a place that they know absolutely there’s no chance of winning.” Merchant said.
Unlike other candidates in the crowded Democratic field, Bloomberg has the resources to reach out to states like Utah, said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. Bloomberg has already committed $100 million to a digital ad campaign targeting Trump.
Bloomberg “can afford to play in places that maybe other candidates can’t afford at this point,” Karpowitz said. “He needs to find some places where he can gain some traction because he’s waited and is behind what other candidates have done.”
Utahns may be seeing Bloomberg’s TV commercials because his campaign strategy apparently is to focus on Super Tuesday states rather than the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, where other Democratic contenders have been campaigning for many months.
Karpowitz said it’s unclear how well a moderate like Bloomberg would be received by Utah Democratic primary voters. But in a general election race against the president, the political science professor said Bloomberg is “the type of candidate, given the state is not all that enthusiastic about Donald Trump, who could make some waves.”
Utah has not voted for a Democrat for president since 1964, when then-President Lyndon Johnson was on the ballot, but attracted nearly all of the major Democratic and Republican candidates to the state in 2016 for that year’s political party caucus voting also held in March.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s running again this year for president, was the big winner in Utah’s Democratic caucus vote over the party’s eventual nominee, former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Trump finished a distant third in the Utah GOP caucus vote behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Trump, who went on to win Utah in the November 2016 general election with just 45.5% of the vote, is already on Utah’s Republican primary ballot next year. Last week, second lady Karen Pence came to Utah to file the necessary paperwork at the state Capitol, then rallied a group of invited Trump supporters at an event in the building.
Several Democratic candidates have already campaigned in Utah, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in April, while former Vice President Joe Biden held a fundraiser in Park City in September and Tom Steyer, another billionaire in the race, has already run TV commercials in Utah.
Merchant said he hopes to see more Democratic presidential candidates in Utah. He said he is talking with Pete Buttigieg’s campaign in the hopes of bringing the South Bend, Indiana, mayor to the state in January. Biden may return to Utah, then, too, for a promised public appearance.
“If we continue to have a lot of candidates in the running for the nomination, they’re going to have to start fighting for Utah and other smaller places,” Merchant said. “If (candidates) don’t fight for those folks, they’re not going to get them.”