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Inside Bloomberg's 3-state tour to court Trump voters

Michael Bloomberg talks to farmers in front of agricultural equipment
Photo: Getty Images

Michael Bloomberg's stops yesterday in Illinois, Minnesota and Ohio were packaged as jobs-and-economy appeal to Americans shortchanged by President Trump — but they provided broader insights into his unorthodox candidacy.

Why it matters: It was the first time the Bloomberg campaign offered the national press corps the opportunity to fly with him, allowing journalists to interact with him and observe his style with voters and staff.

The big picture: The self-funding billionaire avoided focusing on his party rivals, instead taking on Trump in states where other Democrats aren't yet swarming. He's trying to win over Democrats, independents and Republicans who backed Trump in 2016 but aren't feeling the boost Trump promised.

  • When it came to Trump’s character, Bloomberg avoiding characterizations such as "corrupt," "criminal," "dangerous" or "liar," that other Democrats have used.
  • But he jabbed at Trump's legitimacy in the business world, saying he "played a businessman on a TV show" but has never "actually been one in real life."

At stops in urban, rural and post-industrial areas, Bloomberg listed off promises he said Trump made in 2016 but hasn't fulfilled:

  • Trump hasn’t saved the American steel industry, Bloomberg told a crowd of 150 at a community college in Illinois, citing a loss of more than 1,500 steel jobs in Michigan alone.
  • The GOP tax cut didn’t help "forgotten" Americans that Trump courted, Bloomberg said.
  • A General Motors plant in Ohio that Trump promised to keep open had closed.
  • Farmers in places like Minnesota are facing tough times because of Trump's trade war with China, Bloomberg said.

Asked about relations with Iran, Bloomberg said that "it's time to turn down the rhetoric" following escalations that included the U.S. killing of Soleimani and Iran's response.

  • It "looks to me like the Iranians understood that war wouldn't be in their interest," so they "find some missiles that hit in the field and nobody gets hurt." And that has given Trump the space to listen as "I'm sure his staff was telling him, you got to get yourself out of this situation."
  • "He just makes decisions without consulting others and that's the way to make a bad decision, no company would allow their CEO to do that. He would not survive."

In a gaggle with reporters, Bloomberg was asked if he'd release women from NDAs involving his company — as rival Elizabeth Warren has called for.

  • “She should worry about herself and I'm worried about myself," he said.
  • "I'm very proud of the ways our company behaves," he said. "We're not perfect, but we have very low attrition and I think we treat our employees, no matter what their gender or age, ethnicity is, as well as any company."

Between the lines: The campaign conveys a sense of confidence that teeters on arrogance when explaining its general-election strategy before the first primaries have taken place.

  • Instead of spending all of their time in Iowa and New Hampshire, they're focused on "geographic inequality," as one campaign aide put it.
  • They're focused on puncturing a hole in Trump's support in states he's playing hard to keep, including North Carolina, Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Reality check: Some Democratic voters want a candidate who will fight like Trump. But if Axios' seven months of focus groups with Obama/Trump swing voters have taught us anything, it’s that voters like the ones Bloomberg is courting are sick of anti-Trump rhetoric and just want results.

  • I spoke with a dozen voters at Bloomberg's events throughout the day. Just one told me Bloomberg is his top choice. The others were curious about him but had already developed an affinity for another candidate.
  • No Democratic presidential candidate since 1992 has become the nominee without winning a majority of the African American vote. Bloomberg isn’t registering with them.

Two fun things: Bloomberg told a crowd he prefers Subway sandwiches to McDonald's — the Italian BMT, hold the cheese. And, a voracious reader, Bloomberg favors paperback books over tablets. The exception: Spanish literature, which he likes to read on his Kindle, so that he can look up words he doesn’t know as he goes.

Go deeper: Bloomberg, Trump each secure $10 million Super Bowl ad slots