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Mike Bloomberg is the political press's flavor-of-the-day but is he really a contender?

Mike Bloomberg is the political press's flavor-of-the-day but is he really a contender?
Mike Bloomberg image viaWikipedia .

Disclosure: While AlterNet doesn’t endorse candidates, I personally support Elizabeth Warren.  

Mike Bloomberg's big-money campaign has mesmerized the political press, earning him more free media in recent weeks than candidates who have won votes and secured delegates--and who need it a lot more than he does.

It's understandable. Not only does he appeal to mainstream reporters' tendency to lionize centrists, but his status as the 12th richest person on the planet means that he can defy all sorts of conventions, skipping the first four contests and betting big on the large, delegate-rich states that come up on March 3. His campaign appears to have embraced the reality that most rank-and-file Democrats prioritize beating Trump over other considerations and isn't trying to win the Twitter primary. Bloomberg's spending is almost comically lavish, potentially crowding out other campaigns.

Reporters love conflict, and here we have a real New York mogul going up against Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who rail about spiraling economic inequality driving massive political imbalances, with the goal of ultimately facing off against a fake New York mogul. Aaron Sorkin couldn't write a more compelling storyline for campaign reporters.

But it's far from clear whether Bloomberg's recent rise in the polls reflects substantial support or a brief flirtation with a guy whose name is familiar but whose record isn't well known among Democratic primary voters. It's not uncommon during these long campaign seasons for a candidate to catch on briefly, get a bunch of press coverage and then fizzle out when voters get a closer look. Think about the Wesley Clark's brief run atop the Democratic polls in 2003 or Rick Perry's two months leading the GOP pack in 2011.

While the former New York mayor scored a third place finish with 19 percent in the NPR/ Marist poll released this week--and took the lead in a new poll out of Florida while tying Sanders for the top spot in Virginia--there's good reason to believe that support for Bloomberg is soft at best.

Three-quarters of those surveyed in Virginia said that they weren't firm about their choice of candidate. That is typical. Pollsters routinely press those who are undecided--in this case, asking Virginians who hadn't chosen a candidate, "if you had to vote for one of these candidates at this moment, who do you lean toward?" Having spent $400 million on ads over the course of four months, voters are willing to give him a look. That doesn't necessarily mean they're really supporting his candidacy at this stage of the game.

Mike Bloomberg will participate in his first debate this week, and he'll get more media scrutiny as a potential contender for the nomination. And while he embraces some positions that are popular with the Democratic base, he's been too far away from the party's mainstream on too many issues for too long to imagine him coasting to the nomination.

He has long called for cuts to "entitlements," defended racially discriminatory policing, credited the end of real estate "redlining" for precipitating the 2008 recession, backed the Iraq war, opposed the Iran nuclear deal and dinged Barack Obama as a "divisive populist" who had done nothing to address climate change. At least in theory, the person who emerges at the end of a primary campaign should be at least broadly in-step with the party's base.

Bloomberg is not a beloved figure among Democrats. According to the latest Washington Post/ ABC News poll, he's most competitive among those who say they prioritize choosing a nominee who can beat Trump over one who they agree with on the issues. His support has increased in tandem with the perception that he's the best bet for the general election.

That's a double-edged sword. Surveys have consistently found that majorities of primary voters think beating Trump is more important than other considerations. Bloomberg's strategy of staying above the fray of the primaries (so far), and prosecuting the case against Trump, has earned him a look. But it also means that voters don't have any real allegiance to Bloomberg, and if they end up concluding that he isn't more likely to beat Trump than the rest of the field, his support will evaporate quickly. (That's what appears to have happened to Joe Biden's campaign.)

And Mike Bloomberg's mix of issues offers something for every voter to hate. If you like his advocacy of gun control, you're probably appalled by his defenses of stop-and-frisk. If you like his fiscal conservatism, you'll likely loath his position on climate change.

Super Tuesday falls two weeks after Bloomberg's debut in the debates. It will be the first time that voters will have an opportunity to weigh in on his candidacy, and he's based his strategy around having a very big delegate haul. So we will soon see if Bloombergmentum is real, or just another campaign that appeals to reporters and pundits but ultimately fails to catch on with ordinary Democrats.

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