After funneling over half a billion dollars into his failed presidential campaign, Mike Bloomberg dropped out of the 2020 presidential race on Wednesday. But while he’s out of the race, Bloomberg now has the opportunity to become even more valuable to Democrats, as the party moves to build out an aggressive social media operation for the general election.
On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that Bloomberg has formed a new independent expenditure campaign to support the Democratic presidential nominee through the rest of the campaign. The group doesn’t have a name yet, but it will swallow “hundreds” of Bloomberg’s former campaign staff in six swing states to work the general election. Bloomberg will also continue to fund his data and digital advertising for-profit vendor, Hawkfish, that he launched last year to support his bid.
It’s an expansive data operation that hasn’t existed for previous Democratic campaigns and could change the party’s digital strategy for good. Ever since 2016, Democrats have worried about the Trump campaign’s so-called digital juggernaut — and existing party organizations like the DNC haven’t been able to create anything that would rival it. But with Bloomberg suspending his campaign and rolling his seemingly unlimited resources to support the Democrats’ nominee, many Democrats see a chance to close the gap.
Last year, CNBC uncovered that Bloomberg founded a new business called Hawkfish that would become the “primary digital agency and technology services provider for the campaign.” Not only was Hawkfish aiding in digital content creation, ad placement, and analytics for Bloomberg’s campaign, but down-ballot races across the country. Bloomberg was able to bring in top talent from across the tech industry. Former Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck and Facebook’s former chief marketing officer Gary Briggs were the organization’s first employees. That operation could springboard the party’s digital efforts, and top progressive digital campaign strategists say it has the potential to rival Trump’s reelection operations.
“There’s no other entity like that on the left and there never has been either,” said Dave Goldstein, the CEO of Tovo Labs, a progressive digital consulting firm. “The largest tech-focused entity that’s ever existed previously would have just been what the Obama campaign had.”
Money and ads can’t solve every problem; if it could, Bloomberg wouldn’t have been forced out of the race. But Bloomberg’s money allowed him to take risks by employing influencers and meme pages in ways no politician had never done before. More importantly, it let him survive early stumbles like Twitter’s mass-influencer ban.
Other democratic firms are encouraged by Bloomberg’s efforts, including Acronym, the tech shop linked to the disastrous Iowa Caucus reporting app. Last November, Acronym announced that it planned to spend around $75 million on digital advertising to support Democrats.
“When you have unlimited resources, you can take a lot of risks and still carry on,” Tara McGowan CEO of Acronym told The Verge. “It’s easier to change your approach and reach more people, more quickly online.”
So far, the Biden campaign has avoided that kind of mass digital buy, hampered in part by slow fundraising. In the weeks leading up to Super Tuesday, the Biden campaign spent only $2.2 million on ads in six states, a meager amount compared to Bloomberg’s $250 million or even Bernie Sanders’s $18 million. Early on, Biden’s campaign website wasn’t even the first result people would get when they searched for him in Google. Last summer, an SEO troll made a fake website for Biden and it topped the Google search results page for queries about the former vice president.
“Burying a Google result is like digital 101,” Goldstein said.
Bloomberg has said that he’ll use his resources to support the future Democratic nominee. With his endorsement of Biden on Wednesday, it’s clear who he thinks will be leading the Democratic ticket. Biden also thanked Bloomberg Friday for his support, suggesting that the billionaire could be helping him secure the nomination. It’s not clear how exactly Bloomberg plans to leverage organizations like Hawkfish or his new outside-spending group, but he’s still producing social media content for his own Twitter account, successfully and unsuccessfully, to defeat Trump.
But now that he’s out of the race, Bloomberg’s digital operation may be Biden’s biggest source of political leverage. “Hawkfish is being positioned as the solution,” Goldstein said. “It’ll definitely be a vast improvement over the absolute absence of anything even close to it in 2016.”