Bloomberg visits Sacramento while Iowa caucuses in 2020 contest

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — All eyes on Iowa. Well, almost all eyes.

On the day the 2020 presidential election kicks off with Iowa caucuses, Michael Bloomberg was half a continent away in Sacramento as part of a California tour pushing early voting.

Early voting in the nation’s most populous state begins Monday for the Mar. 3 primary elections. It is Bloomberg’s fourth trip to the state as a candidate.

His first stop was at a coffee shop in Sacramento.

“I am running to defeat Donald Trump,” Bloomberg said, speaking on a stage with a U.S. flag backdrop and “Vote early” posters.

With the most delegates at stake, the Golden State has been a frequent stop on Bloomberg’s push to make a strong super Tuesday showing.

Bloomberg said he was planning to enter the Iowa race when he began considering a presidential run, then decided not to become a candidate.

“And while all of the other candidates have been working in the four early states, which I was going to enter, and then when I decided not to run, did not. And then, when I came back, it was too late to get in, but it’s given me the luxury of going around to the rest of this country,” said Bloomberg.

Bloomberg referenced domestic issues, such as health care and homelessness; and global challenges, such as climate change but didn’t claim to have all the answers.

“There’s a whole host of problems which I think that I know how to pull together, I can’t solve them but I can pull the teams together who know how to solve them. That’s what I did in 12 years in New York City,” said Bloomberg.

Wendy Harper, who identifies as an independent voter, came to the rally to learn more, after being inspired by TV personality Judge Judy’s support for Bloomberg.

“She spoke with conviction,” said Harper. “I like his teamwork suggestion of delegating to teams to unite us.”

Harper said she thinks that, despite the crowded field of candidates, Bloomberg stands apart.

“He’s self-made. His wealth is self-made. He’s a businessman already. He’s run a city, New York, for three terms as mayor and that translates into a higher level in my opinion,” explained Harper.

In the crowd was retiree Ruth Holton-Hodson, a Democrat from Sacramento, who is leaning toward Bloomberg as the most likely choice to defeat Trump. But she said she worries his skip-Iowa plan could alienate voters, who would see a wealthy candidate making his own rules.

“I think it will turn people off,” she said.

Nearby, wearing an “I like Mike” sweatshirt, Colorado student Myles Hammond said he was wavering in his decision, but is closely focused on Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders. Hammond, who was in Sacramento for a graduate school interview, said he is drawn to the former mayor’s push for gun control but also likes Sanders’ strong connection with young voters. However, he worries the Vermont senator’s progressive agenda might drive off middle-ground voters.

“I don’t know if it would push some independent voters away,” Hammond said of Sanders. He wasn’t sure if Bloomberg’s unusual strategy of skipping Iowa would work but said he might have “a better chance” focusing on a large state like California.

Bloomberg later landed in Fresno, in the heart of the farm belt, for an outdoor rally with Latino voters, and afterward was scheduled to head to Compton where he planned to launch a national bus tour for surrogates and supporters.

In Fresno, Bloomberg put in a pitch for tougher gun regulation, one of his signature issues. He lamented how disagreements in America too often end in violent deaths. If elected, he promised “gun safety will be at the top of my agenda,” he said.

Visiting a region with a large Hispanic population, he told the crowd “Latino issues are American issues,” earning a round of cheers.

Bloomberg’s trip amounted to a carefully planned sideshow to the crescendo of campaigning in Iowa, where the crowded and shifting Democratic field headed toward an uncertain finish in Monday’s caucuses.

It’s unusual, but not unprecedented, for a candidate to turn away from Iowa, the time-honored launching pad for presidential candidates. It’s similar to a presidential campaign strategy deployed in 2008 by another former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, who was an early drop-out in a year when John McCain become the eventual Republican nominee.

The day of campaigning provided a window into Bloomberg’s broader strategy. Financed by his unrivaled personal wealth, he’s largely going his own way to secure the nomination to challenge President Donald Trump.

But, in embracing his conspicuous absence in Iowa, it highlighted the risk: How to stay relevant when you are competing outside the usual playing field of tradition-bound early contests like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina?

No presidential contest awards more delegates than the state of California, the Democratic fortress that is home to 1-in-8 Americans. Iowa’s caucuses have 41 delegates at stake, but California will award more than 400. In other words, go big.

As a candidate, Bloomberg has gone from curio to competitor with an unmatched torrent of TV ads, paired with traditional retail campaigning, that appears to have pushed him up in presidential polling. Still, he remains unknown to many voters.

But in one sign he is gaining traction, he attracted the attention of Trump, who mocked Bloomberg’s height in an interview with Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity and accused the former mayor of making a special request for a box to stand on if he qualifies for future presidential debates. Bloomberg’s campaign denied the claim.

Bloomberg campaign spokeswoman Julie Wood said Trump was a “pathological liar who lies about everything: his fake hair, his obesity, and his spray-on tan,” she said.

“He’s not going to bully me,” Bloomberg said in Fresno.

The two rival campaigns ran dueling, multimillion-dollar ads during Sunday night’s Super Bowl, with both spending an estimated $10 million for 60 seconds of air time, which Trump used to purchase two 30-second spots.

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