The mainstream media and other Democratic presidential contenders have talked a lot about former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg’s spending on presidential campaign ads, which passed $200 million back in January. He has hired 2,100 staffers, multiples greater than every other candidate. However, neither of those numbers completely conveys the size, sophistication and effectiveness of the operation he is building.
Dan Kanninen, states director for the Bloomberg campaign, shared with me the details of the operation. Those 2,100 staffers are spread around the country, including 800 in California (300 full-time and 500 part-time), 125 in Florida and 135 in North Carolina. They have some 125 offices, soon to increase to 150. They have offices in all 14 Super Tuesday states. They looked at the compensation for many government and political interns ($15 per hour) and decided to increase that to $17 to $18 per hour for field organizers. With their long hours, that works out to be about $6,000 per month. The thinking was that this was a reasonable wage that recognized the value these employees provided to the campaign. All employees receive health-care benefits.
This army has been forming since December, and Bloomberg has vowed to keep the infrastructure in place through Election Day. The philosophy is that the longer people are on the ground, the better they know the area, form relationships and avoid the slam that campaigns only show up for a few weeks once every four years.
The campaign looks at Super Tuesday as 165 congressional districts, each of which may require a different approach based on the delegate rules that apply there. In addition, Bloomberg is invested heavily in states following Super Tuesday, especially in critical battleground states for the fall, among them Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Bloomberg has made a separate commitment to spend $20 million to register 500,000 voters.
Bloomberg’s ad campaign has a robust Spanish-language operation, especially in Arizona, Texas and California. Unlike some other campaigns, Bloomberg also recognizes a growing Hispanic presence in North Carolina, where they have a strong outreach program.
Bloomberg did not get to be rich by spending money indiscriminately. While it seems money for his campaign is unlimited, the campaign does operate on a budget (a big one) where expenditures are expected to produce something of value.
A veteran of President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns now working for Bloomberg says the biggest difference between the Bloomberg organization and other Democratic campaigns (aside from the size and budget) is its data and digital operations.
“In the six years since 2012, Republicans have really caught up and surpassed Democrats in data and digital,” Kanninen says. Because the candidate himself is volatile and seemingly irrational, people might underestimate President Donald Trump’s campaign. But Kanninen says that Democrats ignore at their peril how “exceptional” is the Trump campaign. Kanninen is convinced that gaps in these areas is “why we lost in 2016.” With a candidate who founded an information and technology company, Bloomberg’s team claims to have the best digital and data systems of any campaign, which is what it thinks will be needed to go “toe to toe” with Trump.
The proof will be in the results. That said, one does get the sense that Bloomberg’s campaign will operate on an entirely different level than his Democratic counterparts, both in size and sophistication. Whether that is enough to win the nomination is unknowable at this point. Bloomberg’s operation nevertheless should serve as a wake-up call to his competitors: They better have an operation just as strong to win the nomination and then beat Trump.