Bloomberg Post-Sandy Backing Gives Obama Unexpected Boost

U.S. President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally at the Cheyenne Sports Complex in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photographer: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed President Barack Obama for re-election yesterday, giving the incumbent an unexpected boost from a politically independent national figure heading into the final days of a deadlocked presidential race.

Bloomberg, 70, who previously said he hadn’t decided whether he would publicly endorse his candidate of choice, said it was the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy that brought him off the sidelines to declare his support for Obama.

In an opinion piece published by Bloomberg View, the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent mayor said Obama has “taken major steps” to combat climate change, won “some important victories” on education and health care, and shares his values on abortion and gay rights.

“When I step into the voting booth, I think about the world I want to leave my two daughters, and the values that are required to guide us there,” Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent company Bloomberg LP, wrote. “The two parties’ nominees for president offer different visions of where they want to lead America.”

Bloomberg said while he “may well have voted” for the Mitt Romney who ran for Senate in 1994 and governor in 2003 in Massachusetts out of disappointment with the last four years, the Republican has “reversed course” from “sensible positions” he previously held. Bloomberg cited “immigration, illegal guns, abortion rights and health care.”

Biden’s Call

Vice President Joe Biden played a crucial role in securing the mayor’s endorsement, with a final phone call early this week to close the deal, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked for anonymity to discuss it.

The endorsement comes only five days before the Nov. 6 election as polls show Obama and Romney essentially tied nationally and the president with a slim edge in the most competitive states. Bloomberg’s nod has been coveted by both candidates, in part because of his appeal to centrist voters who often decide close races and his ties to Wall Street executives who control much of the money that finances them.

“It’s not bad news for Obama to be endorsed by a popular, well-regarded and largely politically independent person,” said Donald Green, a professor of political science at Columbia University in New York City. “The question, in terms of political impact, is whether there’s any new information here.”

Shifting Race

Bloomberg announced his support at a moment when Obama has received political benefits from his response to the superstorm that smashed the East Coast, drawing positive reviews for his crisis management, including from New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie, a top Romney surrogate.

“This is significant in a close race, especially” in the aftermath of Sandy, which already had Romney’s campaign “slightly back on their heels,” said Republican strategist Matthew Dowd, a Bloomberg Television analyst. “There just feels like there’s been a shift, and I think Mayor Bloomberg endorsing -- and in the way he did it -- I think just gives more of an impression that that shift is happening” in the presidential race in Obama’s favor.

That narrative “can be powerful going into an Election Day where this thing was dead even,” Dowd said.

There’s a limited extent to which Bloomberg’s endorsement may affect the election, given that undecided voters and those who switch their partisan allegiances are unlikely to be swayed by it, said Paul Beck, a political scientist at Ohio State University in Columbus.

Pivotal Time

“The real question is what kind of visibility does he have outside of the New York area, and I’m not sure that it’s particularly great,” Beck said. “He’s a big-city mayor commenting after the storm. It could influence some voters, but I think it would be very, very modest.”

Influential or not, the endorsement comes at a pivotal time for Obama.

“The mayor knows the president is in a tight race, it’s a dogfight, and every little bit is important,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic political consultant who advised Bloomberg in his 2009 mayoral campaign. “It’s a message to the business community around the country that Bloomberg, who is a giant in the business world, feels comfortable backing this president.”

In a statement, Obama said he was “honored” to have Bloomberg’s backing.

‘A Liberal’

“I deeply respect him for his leadership in business, philanthropy and government, and appreciate the extraordinary job he’s doing right now, leading New York City through these difficult days,” the president said.

Former New York Republican Governor George Pataki dismissed the endorsement.

“It’s really not surprising,” Pataki told Bloomberg Television yesterday. “Mike has been a great mayor for New York City, but he’s a liberal, and never made any bones about it.”

“I disagree with him on this,” Pataki said.

Bloomberg didn’t endorse either Obama or Republican candidate John McCain in the 2008 election. He backed President George W. Bush, a Republican, for re-election in 2004.

During the 2012 presidential race, Bloomberg has criticized both Obama and Romney, describing their answers at a debate last month as “gibberish.” Even in his endorsement essay, the mayor said Obama turned away from his 2008 campaign promise of being a “pragmatic problem-solver and consensus-builder,” and has “embraced a divisive populist agenda focused more on redistributing income than creating it.”

Romney, Bloomberg wrote, “is a good and decent man” who has switched to the wrong side on too many policy issues.

Obama has the better chance of working with Congress to affect change, Bloomberg concluded: “If he listens to people on both sides of the aisle, and builds the trust of moderates, he can fulfill the hope he inspired four years ago and lead our country toward a better future for my children and yours.”

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