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Bloomberg Campaign Concentrates On Super Tuesday Contests


Well, after Iowa and New Hampshire, there are still a lot of Democrats running for president. Bernie Sanders has the front-runner spot. Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar are trying to keep their momentum going. Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden insist they can still bounce back. And then there's a candidate who sees an opening here - former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He entered late but is campaigning hard in Super Tuesday states that have primaries in less than three weeks. But some controversial remarks from Bloomberg's past have caught up with him. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea has been spending time on the Bloomberg bus. Hey there, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

GREENE: So Bloomberg announced in late November that he was going to run. I mean, this is a lot later than other people. So what - where is he going, and what's his strategy right now?

GONYEA: It's been 10 weeks, is all. He's skipping the early states - all of the early states - and focusing on those 14 Super Tuesday states. Yesterday and today, it's three of them - Tennessee yesterday, we're in North Carolina this morning, Texas tonight. If he can translate the hundreds of millions of dollars he's already spent on ads and all of the travel into votes, then he thinks he can make a run at the nomination.

GREENE: A lot of states means a lot of delegates, so the potential to catch up. So what's his message?

GONYEA: Well, he's not talking about the other Democratic candidates in the field; I'll tell you that. He is focused on one person, his ability to go toe-to-toe with him. This is from his rally in Chattanooga yesterday.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Let me be very clear about why I am in this race. I am running to defeat Donald Trump.


GONYEA: It's that simple. And there are a lot of jabs at Trump. This one's from Nashville.


BLOOMBERG: He breaks promises. I keep them. He divides people. I unite them. He's a climate change denier. I'm an engineer. I actually believe in science. Imagine that.


BLOOMBERG: He tweets. I follow facts, respect data and tell the truth. He looks out for people who inherited their wealth, like him, and I'm self-made.

GONYEA: And that cut is kind of the whole campaign, and that dig at the end there is designed to get under the president's skin.

GREENE: Yeah, it really sounds like it - that is what it's designed for. So who's coming to the rallies? What have you noticed?

GONYEA: You get a lot of people who are just curious, lots of folks who like that he's a political centrist. Many are committed to him. Some are voting early for him. That's started already in Tennessee. Lots of undecideds - there were protesters at both rallies yesterday saying he's a billionaire trying to buy the presidency. And we've certainly heard the - some of that from the other Democrats in the race. But I asked undecided voter Tom Paulsin (ph) about that charge. He says more power to Bloomberg.

TOM PAULSIN: I want to see Trump beat. It's going to take a lot of money.

GONYEA: Is it that normally, it might bother you, except that beating Trump is so important? Or is it not...

PAULSIN: No, no. I think the issues are more than anything right now. You know, people want to see infrastructure. They want to see health care.

GONYEA: And David, I should add - at both events yesterday in Tennessee, more than a thousand people.

GREENE: Well, I have to ask you about these controversial remarks that Bloomberg has made in the past, and they've been recirculating now. We've got this audio clip where he's defending the controversial stop-and-frisk program from when he was mayor. And there's this report that came out last night. He's defending redlining, this discriminatory housing practice. I mean, has this stuff come up, and how is he addressing it?

GONYEA: Basically, he says, if I said these things in an interview a long time ago or in a speech, just focus on who I am, OK? On redlining, the campaign says, as Mayor Bloomberg, he attacked predatory lending. They say that's important in this context and that his plans as president would help African American families afford homeownership. On the stop-and-frisk controversy, he has previously apologized, saying the practice was wrong. Now that tape comes out of him defending it. He seems to be supporting racial profiling in that speech. He doesn't explain it, but at a press conference yesterday, he did say this.


BLOOMBERG: Those words doesn't - don't reflect Michael Bloomberg's way he governed in New York City, the way he runs his company, the way his philanthropy works.

GONYEA: And here's the other thing, David. He does say he doesn't think it will hurt him with African American voters.

GREENE: All right. We will see as the campaign goes forward. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea traveling with the Bloomberg campaign - Don, thanks a lot.

GONYEA: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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