Michael R. Bloomberg is actively preparing to enter the Democratic presidential primary and is expected to file paperwork this week designating himself as a candidate in at least one state with an early filing deadline, people briefed on Mr. Bloomberg’s plans said.
Mr. Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and billionaire businessman, has been privately weighing a bid for the White House for weeks and has not yet made a final decision on whether to run, an adviser said. But in the first sign that he is seriously moving toward a campaign, Mr. Bloomberg has dispatched staffers to Alabama to gather signatures to qualify for the primary there. Though Alabama does not hold an early primary, it has a Friday deadline for candidates to formally enter the race.
Should Mr. Bloomberg proceed with a campaign, it could represent a seismic disruption in the Democratic race. With his immense personal wealth, centrist views and close ties to the political establishment, he would present a grave and instantaneous threat to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has been struggling to raise money and assemble a ideologically moderate coalition.
But Mr. Bloomberg could also reshape the race in other ways, intensifying the Democrats’ existing debates about economic inequality and corporate power, and offering fodder to the party’s rising populist wing, led by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who contend that the extremely rich already wield far too much influence in politics. Mr. Bloomberg has repeatedly expressed discomfort with certain policies favored by both Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders.
Howard Wolfson, a close adviser to Mr. Bloomberg, said on Thursday that the former mayor viewed President Trump as an “unprecedented threat to our nation,” and noted Mr. Bloomberg’s heavy spending in the 2018 midterm elections and this week’s off-year races in Virginia. Mr. Bloomberg, he said, has grown uneasy about the existing trajectory of the Democratic primary.
“We now need to finish the job and ensure that Trump is defeated — but Mike is increasingly concerned that the current field of candidates is not well positioned to do that,” Mr. Wolfson said. “If Mike runs he would offer a new choice to Democrats built on a unique record running America’s biggest city, building a business from scratch and taking on some of America’s toughest challenges as a high-impact philanthropist.”
Mr. Bloomberg will have to move quickly if he is to compete in a serious way for the Democratic nomination. Beyond Alabama, several other states have filing deadlines in quick succession, including New Hampshire, with its crucial early primary. While he has maintained a cluster of high-powered advisers in New York, he would have to build a campaign from zero in the early primary and caucus states, and it may be difficult for him to qualify for the two remaining debates this year.
In a Democratic race, Mr. Bloomberg would face a battery of complicated questions about his political ideology and governing record. He has been a vigorous advocate for core liberal causes, like gun control and battling climate change. But as mayor Mr. Bloomberg also championed police searches that targeted black and Latino men; in an interview last fall, he defended his administration’s stop-and-frisk policing strategy and also expressed skepticism about the #MeToo movement.
A former Republican who repeatedly explored running for president as an independent, Mr. Bloomberg registered as a Democrat ahead of the midterm elections last year. In his past flirtations with the presidency, Mr. Bloomberg has never before taken the step of filing to put his name on a state ballot.
Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, S.C., said in an interview that he spoke with Mr. Bloomberg in late October, and the two discussed the unfolding presidential race. Mr. Benjamin, a Democrat who has not taken sides in the primary, predicted Mr. Bloomberg’s background as a businessman and mayor, and his stances on climate and guns, would make him a formidable contender if he runs.
“I believe Mayor Bloomberg would be an incredibly strong candidate,” Mr. Benjamin said. “There’s a lot of work to be done in gearing up for the first four primaries and caucuses, and certainly for Super Tuesday, but I would caution anybody not to underestimate Mike Bloomberg.”
Though Mr. Bloomberg could still opt against running, even his preliminary steps toward a campaign may come as a blow to Mr. Biden, who has been counting on strong support from centrist Democrats, traditional party donors and much of the business community to carry him forward in the race.
When Mr. Bloomberg previously announced in March that he would not run for president, advisers indicated the decision was shaped in part by Mr. Biden’s strong popularity with Democratic primary voters. But Mr. Biden’s position in the race is evidently no longer imposing enough to keep Mr. Bloomberg at bay.
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