By Alexander Burns and
In the fall of 2018, Emily’s List had a dilemma. With congressional elections approaching and the Supreme Court confirmation battle over Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh underway, the Democratic women’s group was hosting a major fund-raising luncheon in New York. Among the scheduled headline speakers was Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor, who had donated nearly $6 million to Emily’s List over the years.
Days before the event, Mr. Bloomberg made blunt comments in an interview with The New York Times, expressing skepticism about the #MeToo movement and questioning sexual misconduct allegations against Charlie Rose, the disgraced news anchor. Senior Emily’s List officials seriously debated withdrawing Mr. Bloomberg’s invitation, according to three people familiar with the deliberations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In the end, the group concluded it could not risk alienating Mr. Bloomberg. And when he addressed the luncheon on Sept. 24 — before an audience dotted with women clad in black, to show solidarity with Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault — Mr. Bloomberg demonstrated why.
“I will be putting more money into supporting women candidates this cycle than any individual ever has before,” he declared.
It was not an idle pledge: Mr. Bloomberg spent more than $100 million helping Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections. Of the 21 newly elected lawmakers he supported with his personal super PAC, all but six were women.
The decision by Emily’s List, to mute its misgivings and embrace Mr. Bloomberg as a mighty ally, foreshadowed the choice Mr. Bloomberg is now asking Democrats to make by anointing him their presidential nominee.
There are, after all, numerous dimensions to Mr. Bloomberg’s persona and record that give Democrats pause. A former Republican who joined the Democratic Party in 2018, Mr. Bloomberg has long mingled support for progressive causes with more conservative positions on law enforcement, business regulation and school choice. He has often given voice to views that liberals find troubling: Over the past week, Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign was on the defensive over past recordings that showed him linking the financial crisis to the end of discriminatory “redlining” practices in mortgage lending, and defending physically aggressive policing tactics as a deterrent against crime.
Yet in a primary campaign defined by Democrats’ hunger to defeat President Trump, Mr. Bloomberg is also offering himself up as a person singularly equipped to do so — a figure of unique standing and resources, with a powerful set of alliances and a fearsome political machine to draw on. His political rise has become a test of the impact one man’s wealth can have when he applies it to the political system with driving sophistication.
In less than three months as a candidate, Mr. Bloomberg has poured more than $400 million, and rapidly counting, into the campaign. But that figure pales in comparison with what he spent in prior years, positioning himself as a national leader with presidential ambitions.