Elizabeth Warren spent the first 10 months of her campaign studiously avoiding attacking her fellow Democratic contenders by name. No longer.
With Mike Bloomberg making a splashy entrance into the race — breaking a one-week spending record with a $34 million ad buy — the Massachusetts Democrat now has what her campaign views as an ideal foil for her message that the hyper-rich have too much control over the political system.
Bloomberg, Warren said as she campaigned in Iowa, is “making a bet about democracy in 2020. He doesn’t need people. He only needs bags and bags of money … His view is that he doesn’t need people who knock on doors. He doesn’t need to get out and campaign with people … And if you get out and knock on 1,000 doors, he’ll just spend another $37 million to flood the airways. And that’s how he plans to buy a nomination in the Democratic Party.”
The billionaire former New York mayor responded to the criticism as he made the first stop of his campaign at a diner in Norfolk, Va.. “For years I’ve been using my resources for the things that matter to me. I was lucky enough to build a successful company. It has been very successful and I’ve used all of it to give back to help America,” he told reporters, pointing to his spending on efforts promoting gun safety, combating climate change and helping Democrats retake the House. “I’m now in the race; I’m fully committed to defeating Donald Trump. I think he’s an existential threat to our country. I’m going to make my case and let the voters, who are plenty smart, make their choice.”
Warren appears primed to keep pressing her attack. “Her message is rich people have rigged the system by buying influence, and here comes a rich person trying to rig the system by buying influence,” one person close to the campaign tells me.
The sudden offensive underscores the extent to which Warren — and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has also been sharply critical of Bloomberg — aims to force a reckoning between a populist vision and the party’s more traditional, industry-friendly approach.
Warren for weeks has made hay from a series of confrontations with Wall Street billionaires going public with criticisms of her proposed wealth tax. Bloomberg likewise opposes the plan — unlike Tom Steyer, the Democratic field’s other billionaire, who has offered his own version. And the ex-mayor’s entry in the race gives Warren a fixed target with name recognition beyond CNBC’s viewership.
“She’s the most widely liked candidate in the race,” the source close to her campaign says. “And Bloomberg’s the most widely disliked candidate in the race and represents a widely disliked phenomenon, which is rich people trying to buy influence in elections. She’s got a wide berth here to go negative in a way that redounds to her benefit.”
Warren can draw a straight line from her opening argument in the race to her Bloomberg critique. On a visit to Iowa back in January, she said Democrats “ought to be building a movement, and the way we do that is with lots of involvement from lots of people, not having billionaires buy these campaigns, whether we’re talking about super PACs or self-funding.”
But the Bloomberg camp argues the candidate’s ability to self-fund is a strength. “He has never taken a political contribution in his life. He is not about to start,” Bloomberg chief adviser Howard Wolfson told the AP’s Steve Peoples. “He cannot be bought.”
Per Peoples, “Bloomberg’s team insists that his wealth allows him to be more responsive to the concerns of everyday people because he isn’t beholden to special interests. Wolfson said Bloomberg would work for only $1 a year as president, just as he did when he was New York City mayor for more than a decade… Bloomberg ‘is wholly independent of special interests, will not take a dime in any contribution, and never has in any of his three races,’ Wolfson said.”