On Monday afternoon, as 98% of the Democratic professional universe was in Iowa, Bradley Tusk was heading to West 43rd Street in Manhattan, to the eighth floor of the former New York Times building—now the headquarters of the Mike Bloomberg 2020 presidential campaign. Tusk is a playfully pugnacious operative who was the manager of Bloomberg’s successful, if surprisingly close, run for a third term as mayor of New York City in 2009. Since then Tusk has mostly been leading his own venture capital firm. But his schedule has suddenly shifted back to nearly full-time campaign work. “This has gotten realer faster than any of us expected,” Tusk tells me. “You and I have talked about this a couple of times over the past few months, what had to happen for Mike to have a shot at the nomination—all the ‘if this happens, if that happens.’ We needed weird things to happen—and they keep happening.”
Indeed. Hours later, what will turn out to be the final Iowa caucuses as we’ve known them for decades descended into a gigantic app-inflicted mess. The order of finish, whenever it arrives, matters to Bloomberg’s long-shot prospects: The weaker the results for Joe Biden and the stronger the numbers for Bernie Sanders and for Elizabeth Warren, the better for Bloomberg, who is positioning himself as a moderate with deep governing experience and a bottomless bank account. But the Iowa muddle is already allowing Bloomberg to emerge as a perceptual victor: The candidate of cold-blooded competence who has been a high-profile success in both private business and public office. A campaign aide says that today Bloomberg is “immediately increasing ad spending in current markets and adding new markets, with our total gross ratings points doubling from 1,200 to 2,400.” In civilian language: You won’t be able to turn on a TV or a computer without seeing a Bloomberg ad.