Road testing Bloomberg’s messages

Dateline: 23 June 2007

Being a billionaire has a number of well-documented advantages. One is that if you are running for President you can start out-spending your opponents pretty early on, and use your spending to define them before they can define themselves. You don’t need to wait while you raise money, or while you get nominated by your party. You don’t even need to wait while parties select their nominees, as you can start defining messages which play well against potential opponents. Let’s look at a few possible Bloomberg messages and how they might work.

1. “I’m the outsider. The others are just political hacks”
Works against:
Clinton: despite a rather thin résumé in terms of elective experience, and no executive experience whatsoever, Clinton has been nationally known longer than any of her potential rivals except Al Gore. It is easy to seem like an outsider in contrast with her.
Gore: he may get some credit for being outside Washington for the past eight years, but is nonetheless someone who has spent his entire life in politics.
McCain: decades in the Senate didn’t exactly help John Kerry’s candidacy, and won’t help McCain either.
Gingrich: like Gore he has been out of DC for a while, but has been around a long time and had a national profile for almost as long.
Probably doesn’t work against:
Giuliani: his elective experience is identical to Bloomberg’s. He did serve in an appointed capacity in the Reagan administration, but was fighting crime, and it is hard to make that seem like a bad thing.
Edwards & Thompson: both have similar levels of elective experience to Bloomberg. He would subtly recalibrate the message to cast them as ‘Washington pols’ in contrast to his local experience, but it would still be hard for Bloomberg, with seven years in politics, to sell this message against Edwards (six years in the Senate) or Thompson (eight years). Edwards is, perhaps, a little more vulnerable as he has spent his time since leaving the Senate running for office, which Thompson has not.
Obama: came to prominence after Bloomberg. Though he has never really done anything outside politics and has been in elective office since 1996.
Bounces off:
Romney: less time in elective office than Bloomberg and a similar (if not quite so spectacular) background in business beforehand.

2. “I have actually run things. The others just talk”
Works against:
Clinton, McCain, Obama, Edwards: the Senate is, famously, the nursery of losing presidential campaigns.
Probably doesn’t work against:
Gore, Gingrich: being Vice-President gives the impression of being an executive job (though it isn’t really), and running the House of Representatives is very different from just being a member.
Bounces off:
Romney, Giuliani, Richardson: no point even trying it on these guys.

3. “I am a moderate. The others are outside the mainstream”
Works against:
Clinton, Obama: both are pretty liberal, and have protectionist leanings. He can spend more defining their liberalism than they can ever spend denying it.
Gingrich: widely seen as being a hardline conservative and could lose moderate votes as a result.
Gore: his reinventions have been legion, but there is plenty of material available from his ‘people against the powerful’ populism.
Probably doesn’t work against:
McCain: despite a broadly conservative voting record, it is firmly established in the public mind that he is ‘moderate’ and ‘maverick’. Well regarded by independents.
Edwards: another liberal protectionist, but one who has an easy, friendly, manner and was elected in a very conservative state.
Thompson: another Senator with a broadly conservative record, but his personal charm and Reaganesque manner protect him against such a charge.
Bounces off:
Richardson: NRA endorsement. ‘Nuff said.
Giuliani, Romney: Republicans elected in territories where Democrats outnumber the GOP by seven to one. Not going to fly.

4. “I can actually win”
Probably doesn’t work: but it is not impossible to see it working against Clinton or Gingrich. If either party selects someone with high negatives who can’t break into winning territory, it opens a slot for Bloomberg to claim that he is the one who can defeat the other party. In particular, a Clinton campaign, if struggling, could be vulnerable to Bloomberg campaigning as “the liberal who can win”.

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