Bloomberg comes to Atlanta aiming to woo black voters he’ll need to win

Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg speaks Friday during the launch of his organizing efforts in Georgia at the Westside Cultural Arts Center in Atlanta. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg speaks Friday during the launch of his organizing efforts in Georgia at the Westside Cultural Arts Center in Atlanta. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Mike Bloomberg’s first visit to Atlanta since launching his bid for the White House had a not so subtle mission.

He spoke at a voting rights summit with Stacey Abrams, lunched at Paschal's Restaurant — the landmark soul food spot — and then swung by a fundraiser for state Sen. Nikema Williams, the first black woman elected to lead the state Democratic Party.

And before he took the podium to speak at his rally in west Atlanta, he was introduced by two senior African American advisers with deep Georgia roots after a celebrated drum line carved a path through the mostly white audience.

Bloomberg’s itinerary for Friday’s visit illustrated one of the most significant political challenges in his bid for the White House — a bid that hinges on his bet to skip the first nominating contests in early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

That means he’s taking a stand in the larger states that cast ballots beginning in March. And to win the nomination, he’ll have to woo significant numbers of African American voters who make up the bulk of the Democratic electorate in Georgia, which holds its primary March 24, and other diverse states.

Taking the podium in Atlanta, Bloomberg emphasized his business background and his willingness, when he was New York City’s mayor, to go toe to toe with President Donald Trump.

And he emphasized his work combating climate change, expanding voting rights and supporting gun restrictions, including his endorsement of U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, the Marietta Democrat who was a top official for Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun control group Bloomberg helped launch.

“I know America is not New York,” he said. “But I also know America is ready to get things done.”

Unmentioned was one of the issues that has threatened to undercut support from black voters: a controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy that was struck down in 2013 by a federal judge who said it violated the rights of minorities. Bloomberg apologized for the practice before he announced his campaign.

The visit came the day Bloomberg’s aides said his sprawling campaign would continue through the general election even if he loses the Democratic nomination, redirecting their efforts to help the eventual nominee and defeat Trump.

His campaign apparatus already involves about 500 staffers whom the billionaire has committed to paying through November, according to NBC News. While most polls show him around fifth place, he's trying to present himself to Democrats as more focused on ousting Trump than his own ambitions.

In Georgia, Bloomberg has already financed TV ads and hired staff in the state to help round out his campaign — one of the few presidential contenders to do so. He plans to open at least six campaign offices in the state, with a headquarters likely in Atlanta.

Voting rights

Like other 2020 contenders, Bloomberg has also courted Abrams. His $5 million donation to her Fair Fight Action voting rights group was its largest single contribution, helping the Atlanta-based organization collect nearly $15 million in the past six months.

Bloomberg spoke briefly at Abrams’ invite-only event Friday, saying that “we all wish we didn’t have to have this conference.”

“Unfortunately, voter suppression is one of our most urgent challenges, and the right to vote is a fundamental right that protects all others — and is under attack in this country.”

With his visit, Bloomberg became the latest White House hopeful to launch a voting rights policy from Georgia.

His plan centers on a national Voting Rights Act that requires states to conduct automatic voter registration. It would block states from purging voters on the basis of inactivity, restore voting rights to people with felony convictions and add more federal observers at polling sites.

Another part of the proposal would require states to establish independent redistricting commissions to draw political maps. And it would mandate that all states allow early voting and adopt new standards for convenient polling place locations.

He highlighted that plan in his remarks at the Westside Cultural Arts Center, where a few hundred people crowded a cozy room festooned with “Mike” signs. And though he seemed to tailor his message to African American voters, only a few minorities were in the crowd.

Among them was Diane Boyd, who runs a global marketing firm and left impressed by his message even as she pointed out his audience was not reflective of Georgia.

“When I’m looking around at this crowd, I’m not seeing middle America. A lot of people who don’t have a voice aren’t here,” she said. “But I’m supportive of him. One of my biggest issues is ensuring black women like me can be competitive in the marketplace, and I’m seeing that with Bloomberg.”

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