Jules Witcover (copy) (copy) (copy) (copy)

Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON -- Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's threatened entry into the 2020 Democratic presidential race is an implied no-confidence vote against former Vice President Joe Biden as a candidate to defeat President Donald Trump next year.

But in a more than hour-long televised Q-and-A at Grinnell College in Iowa Monday night, the former vice president responded by confidently welcoming Bloomberg into the race, while strengthening his own cause with an empathy-filled performance that struck a sharp contrast with Trump's ever-demeaning attacks on all opponents, including Biden.

Bloomberg, in announcing he was entering the Alabama Democratic primary, disclosed an unorthodox pick-and-choose strategy wherein he would skip the first four contests for national convention delegates and then focus on the first Super Tuesday of 2020, which will include delegate-rich California, followed by other selected state primaries.

It is a naked gambit to buy the White House, albeit by a proven businessman turned successful politician, in contrast to the man now occupying it.

The Bloomberg scheme appears primarily aimed at Biden, who has been obliged to endure many press reiterations of past verbal gaffes. They have sometimes appeared to undercut his more than 40 years of high-level public service as a U.S. senator, including as chairman of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees, and eight years as vice president.

Some see Bloomberg's incipient entry into the race as Biden's undoing. But it could be a boost to him, as voters may dislike the former mayor trying to horn in by shortening and abusing the process, and then throwing his vast riches into the fray.

Bloomberg has already unmasked himself as a self-serving abuser of the long-established political process in both major parties, which dictates that presidential nominations be chosen through state primary elections and caucuses.

A Democratic field of more than two dozen hopefuls signed on to slog through debates and caucuses and primaries across the country, introducing themselves to the voters and fielding their questions.

Together these contests constitute true retail politics at its best, in which Donald Trump himself engaged in 2016 with remarkable success, along with massive rallies financed on his own nickel. Bloomberg appears poised to do the same, but skipping the first major, demanding hurdles for gaining delegate support.

The other Democratic candidates will be outraged at this caper, and it might sour many voters in the various states as well. Followers of the inside game of politics may remember that Bloomberg originally was a Democrat who switched to the Republican Party in 2001 to win the New York mayoral race. Without mentioning Biden, he justified his latest flirtation by saying he was "clear-eyed about the difficulty of winning the Democratic nomination in such a crowded field," but "I believe I would defeat Donald Trump in a general election."

Biden astutely welcomed Bloomberg into the Democratic nomination race, calling him "a solid guy" while citing several polls showing himself comfortably ahead of Trump in key Midwestern states that were pivotal in Trump's Electoral College victory in 2016.

Two other frontrunning Democrats in the polls, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, are targeting billionaires as already buying their way into American politics. They should have a field day going at Bloomberg, to Biden's advantage.

Meanwhile, in choosing Alabama's Democratic primary as his tentative entry gate into the 2020 campaign, Bloomberg merely picked a convenient, available one with no apparent strategic significance. Will he actually campaign there after having ignored Iowa and the other first delegate-selecting states?

In any event, another billionaire with money to burn seems ready to join the crusade to send Trump back to the real-estate racket, if not in New York, which he has recently deserted, to sunny Florida, where he seems to have found his ideal home.

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