Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Chesnot/Getty Contributor
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Some swing voters here are unbothered by the way Michael Bloomberg is spending heaps of his own money to help him win the race — but they're split over whether they'd actually vote for the New York billionaire over President Trump.
Why it matters: Bloomberg is the only Democrat who was even slightly intriguing to these voters. They're happy with Trump and don't feel like they recognize the current Democratic Party relative to when they voted for Barack Obama.
- We heard from eight voters who flipped from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016.
- The focus group was conducted the night before the Nevada debate, during which Bloomberg faced an onslaught of attacks from his Democratic rivals.
- While a focus group is not a statistically significant sample like a poll, these responses show how some voters are thinking and talking about the 2020 election in crucial counties.
Between the lines: Bloomberg’s Democratic rivals have piled on against his wealth, arguing he’s trying to buy the nomination. That argument didn‘t resonate with these Trump voters who Democrats want to win back.
Driving the news: Florida is a critical state for the general election, but also for the Democratic primary — it has the fourth-largest number of delegates (219), to be awarded when it holds its primary on March 17.
- A recent Florida poll shows Bloomberg leading by 5 percentage points, but that was before his debate performance. He has spent over $14 million in Florida already.
- Trump won this county by fewer than 3,500 votes in 2016.
What they're saying: "If they all had that kind of money and the financial backing, they would all buy [the election] in one way or another," said Carlos, one of the focus group participants, referring to Bloomberg's opponents.
- Nearly every other person in the group agreed. "If they had the funds, they would all do what he's doing," said Matt P., who later said he'd vote for Bloomberg over Trump if he were the Democratic nominee.
- But Kathy, who also said she'd vote for Bloomberg over Trump, felt that Bloomberg's ability to inundate the airwaves with ads wasn't creating a fair playing field for the rest of the Democrats.
- "I mean, if you put a sign of a cow up and put it everywhere in the state, people will vote for the cow," she said. "It's like a subliminal message, over and over and over. You're bombarded with his ads."
One voter took issue with the Sept. 11 footage in Bloomberg's ads. "I feel as though he is utilizing 9/11, which absolutely was horrific, but on our heartstrings as Americans to get the vote," said Amiee. "That disgusts me."
- Melissa, who previously lived in New Jersey, interjected to give Bloomberg credit. "He did a lot. He did awesome. But you know what? 9/11 here in Florida, it means nothing."
- But she's not ready to ditch Trump. "He's good for New York, but I don't think he's good for the country," she said of Bloomberg. "I don't think he can take care of the whole country like Trump does. Trump's hard. He doesn't care what people think. He just does what he wants."
Others in the group said Bloomberg is "the most polished" of the 2020 Democrats and that he'd be the one who could actually beat Trump.
- "Prior to when we voted for Trump, this is why we voted for him: because he was a non-Washington guy" like Bloomberg, said Kathy. Others nodded their head.
The bottom line: If these voters are looking for another "outsider" candidate in 2020, that makes it difficult for the rest of the Democrats to break through — especially when Trump fatigue hasn't set in for this group.