Are Democrats ignoring Mike Bloomberg at their peril?

While browsing through various op-eds coming out this week in advance of the Iowa caucuses, I ran across one that really offers a strange take on the current crop of Democratic hopefuls. At the Los Angeles Times, Jon Healey poses a question that seems to come straight out of left field. Could the race for the nomination come down to a battle between Bernie Sanders vs. … Mike Bloomberg?

You can scoff if you like (and honestly, I wouldn’t blame you), but Healey is focusing on some of the recent polling numbers that don’t get nearly as much air time as the constantly shifting ratings of the four frontrunners. We’re all focusing on Iowa and New Hampshire right now, but Bloomberg wrote off those states and isn’t competing for that turf. But in other areas, he’s quietly been gaining some traction.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a new UC Berkeley Institute of Government poll shows Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) pulling away from the field in California. Sanders is at 26% and rising, while his nearest rival, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), is at 20% and fading (with a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points).

Meanwhile, the latest Morning Consult poll of national voters shows former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg climbing like a rocket since he started dedicating cash-stuffed mattresses to his television advertising campaign late last year. The poll put Bloomberg at 12%, closing in on Warren (14%) but still well behind former Vice President Joe Biden (29%) and Sanders (23%). Biden and Warren have been heading down, Sanders heading up — but not at anything close to Bloomberg’s trajectory.

In Healey’s scenario, Bernie Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire while Biden takes South Carolina and Nevada. If Elizabeth Warren gets shut out for four races in a row, she may consider dropping and tossing her support to Sanders as the other, most socialist, progressive one in the field. Then, if Bernie’s momentum in California continues, he could bag a huge number of delegates there and become the only viable choice for the far left wing of the party.

That leaves a small cluster of more moderate candidates to fight for what’s left of the base. And the race moves to states where Bloomberg has been spending heavily and starting to gain some traction. Meanwhile, Buttigieg could easily start running short of resources if he doesn’t pull off some wins, while Bloomberg is not going to run out of money to keep up a massive advertising presence.

If the Buttigieg boomlet collapses completely, will his primarily younger supporters flock to Joe Biden? If he keeps stumbling and looking shakey, people might start paying even more attention to Bloomberg’s ad campaign and start considering him as a viable alternative to Sanders’ radical agenda. And by that time, everyone else will likely have dropped out.

Or at least that’s how Healey sees one possible outcome. I can’t say it’s totally impossible, but there are a couple of assumptions in there that seem a little dubious. First of all, I find it hard to imagine Warren dropping out that fast, particularly if she manages to rack up one or two second place finishes and banks even a handful of delegates early on. And we’ve yet to see what her Super Tuesday strategy will look like after the first four states vote. She may just abandon California to the better-funded candidates and focus on trying to win some of the smaller states to keep herself in the hunt.

Also, the idea of the moderates flocking to Bloomberg instead of Biden strikes me as a bit unlikely. The billionaire is trying to change his tune these days, but keep in mind that he’s not just “a moderate” to most fo the base. He used to be a Republican. And he was one of those Tough On Crime Republicans to boot. (That was no doubt a big part of what killed Kamala Harris’ campaign.) He’s always been a nanny-state kind of guy and he’s big on gun control, but he’s a friend of Wall Street and doesn’t like tax hikes. In short, I don’t think the Democratic Party of 2020 is ready to forgive and forget that much history.

Healey paints an interesting picture and it can’t be ruled out entirely. But honestly, I still see Biden, flawed and weakened as he may be, as the liferaft that moderate Democrats will swim toward to avoid the debacle of a Sanders nomination.