As Sanders Surges, Bloomberg Eyes Americans in Israel to Win Democratic Nomination

Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
New York
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Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg holds a campaign rally in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., February 20, 2020.
Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg holds a campaign rally in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., February 20, 2020.Credit: ED KOSMICKI/ REUTERS
Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
New York

NEW YORK – Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is eyeing American voters in Israel for his 2020 presidential bid as part of a new push to rally Democrats Abroad, his campaign told foreign correspondents on Monday.

Americans living abroad who identify as Democrats can either vote in their state’s primary via absentee ballot or do so as registered members of Democrats Abroad – the Democratic Party’s official arm for Americans living outside of the United States.

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Its members vote in the Democrats Abroad Global Primary and are recognized as a state party by the Democratic National Committee. The party is represented by 13 pledged delegates at the Democratic National Convention. For that reason, ballots cast as part of the party potentially weigh more than simple absentee ballots as part of a state primary.

Although the U.S. State Department estimates that 9 million American citizens were living abroad in 2016, according to John Calvelli, the Bloomberg campaign’s director for Democrats Abroad: “There is a large discrepancy between the number of Americans living abroad and the number of voters in the Democrats Abroad global primary.”

While this number includes both Republicans and Democrats, in 2016 only 34,570 Democrats voted in the global primary. As for Israel, out of the 100,000-plus Americans living in the country, only 412 participated in the process through Democrats Abroad.

Democrats Abroad will send 13 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee in July. Four years ago, Bernie Sanders won over two-thirds of the vote against his then-rival Hillary Clinton.

“Israel has a large expat population, which means there are American voters that the Mike Bloomberg 2020 campaign is looking to reach,” Calvelli told Haaretz. “Through events, targeted outreach and old-fashioned networking, our team is looking to simultaneously spread the word about Mike’s record and increase the number of Democrats Abroad voters in Israel.

“Because of his commitment to fighting anti-Semitism and support for Israel, Mike and his message will resonate with Americans living there,” he added.

Bloomberg has recently emerged as the leading candidate for the pro-Israel establishment after fellow Jewish candidate and Democratic front-runner Sanders announced that he won’t be attending the annual AIPAC policy conference, which starts in Washington on Sunday.

Sanders also reiterated his criticism of the Israeli government last week when he made a distinction between being “for the Israeli people” and supporting the “right-wing racist governments that currently exist in Israel.”

The Bloomberg campaign’s strategy to compete for Democrats Abroad delegates, who Calvelli said could play a “catalytic role” in the election, is focused both on increasing the number of Americans who vote through Democrats Abroad and identifying Bloomberg supporters who live overseas.

“By doing this, we are working to maximize the number of our supporters participating in this process,” Calvelli said.

The campaign’s plan, he added, involves hiring staff overseas to engage with potential voters; hosting events in key markets such as Israel; and executing a “paid, earned and social media strategy” including investing in digital and print ads in publications throughout the globe, engaging with local media, and pushing campaign content on social media.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders takes the stage for an outdoor campaign rally in Austin, Texas, U.S., February 23, 2020. Credit: MIKE SEGAR/ REUTERS

Democrats Abroad members can begin voting on March 3 and will have until March 10 to cast their ballots. The group allows registering and voting on the same day and by email ballot. Those who vote as Democrats Abroad will not be allowed to also vote in their home state primary.

According to a new poll conducted last week by Political Polls, Bloomberg, who joined the presidential race three month ago, is popular among Jewish voters in the United States with 28 percent of respondents favoring him. He is followed by Pete Buttigieg (16 percent) and Joe Biden (10 percent).

Sanders, who won the Nevada caucus on Saturday and jumped to a 15-point national lead in the race according to an ABC News-Washington Post poll, only receives the support of 6 percent of the Jewish voters surveyed.   

Bloomberg’s first appearance on the debate stage in Las Vegas last week largely underwhelmed American voters at home.

He’ll join his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination again for the next debate, in South Carolina on Tuesday. He did not compete in the first four voting states but is on ballot in the slew of states that vote on Super Tuesday (March 3).

The billionaire businessman is trying to place himself as Sanders’ direct competition in the Democratic race. Sanders, whose campaign runs largely on an anti-billionaire message, has criticized Bloomberg for pouring his wealth into the campaign, but lacking “the energy we need to defeat Donald Trump.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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