Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire and former mayor of New York City, is looking at Texas to propel him to the Democratic nomination for president. On Saturday, he launched a bus tour of the Lone Star State from San Antonio.
His brand new campaign bus, “The Get it Done Express,” delivered him at Market Square for his stump speech. Enthusiastic Bloomberg supporters and a handful of aggressive protesters were both there to greet him.
The anti-Bloomberg forcers waved Trump 2020 flags and a billboard sized “Come and Take It” banner with an assault rifle icon. It was their way of letting him know that they strongly disagreed with his stance on guns.
But when Bloomberg addressed the crowd, he didn’t back down. Instead, he highlighted his track record in reigning in guns.
“Donald Trump is a president who's in the pocket of the gun lobby," he claimed. "And instead of just complaining, I took on the NRA, and the NRA is now in disarray. And they have a fundraising problem."
Bloomberg said he created and funded a national organization that wants universal background checks.
“Nobody wants to take away anybody's guns, just background checks," he said. "[It's] called Everytown, and it's got 6 million supporters so far. And we're still going, and we will get it done.”
As Bloomberg shook hands in the crowd, Trump supporter Cory Harris cozied up to take a selfie. He whipped off his cowboy hat to brandish his red “Keep America Great” cap and snapped his photo.
Bloomberg didn’t flinch. “There was one guy this morning who didn't want to shake my hand," he recalled. "Okay, I'm gonna just look at him. And he said no. And I said, 'okay, thank you, but thank you for coming.' ”
Harris said Bloomberg was wrong on guns, and the recent church shooting in White Settlement Texas proved it.
“I’m a big supporter of our Second Amendment rights," he said. "If you look at the church shooting two weeks ago, the shooter was stopped in six seconds. Dozens of people could have been killed with that guy.”
Jack Wilson, a trained volunteer church security officer, shot and killed the gunman after he opened fire and killed two church goers.
But Bloomberg had a different view about the lesson of the White Settlement shooting. He said only law enforcement officers should be armed.
“One guy pulling his gun and shooting -- thank God he didn't hit an innocent person," he said. "We have police, and if we need more police, we should hire them and train them. But I want people that are trained and run under the authority of the government to provide us with security. I'm not trying to take away anybody's weapons. But I just don't want individuals with their own guns in a crowded theater to start shooting.”
Bloomberg’s stance on guns might seem to make him a rough fit for Texas. But there is polling that indicates many suburban voters want some tougher gun laws. And Bloomberg said he’s running his campaign based on data on what’s needed in America and what works.
Texas Public Radio joined Bloomberg on his campaign bus as it began its trip to Austin and on to Dallas. During the trip, Bloomberg offered an example of how he regards the data: “You can measure public health during my term and in city hall: Life expectancy went up by three years in New York City. In this country in the last three years, life expectancy has gone down. Now that's the data. The cause is mainly opioids.”
But Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, thought that was a risky strategy. He pointed out that Bloomberg has essentially ignored the first four primaries and caucuses and instead is gambling big on Super Tuesday in California and Texas.
“His bet is that he didn't have the time or really the personality or interest to do the kind of retail campaigning that is required, in both Iowa and New Hampshire," Jillson explained. "But he did have the money to spend big on television and other kinds of advertising to try to enter the fray on Super Tuesday and win some of those big states, or at least do very, very well.”
Jillson said Bloomberg is looking for voters in Texas who haven’t had a champion in a long time.
“His entry at this point is into the ... traditional wing of the Democratic Party," he said. "They're sort of all [U.S. Sen.] Lloyd Bentsen, [President] Lyndon Johnson, [Texas Gov.] John Connally -- moderate to conservative Democrats to the extent that they still exist. He has shown no real strength, that I'm aware of, among Hispanics and blacks. He'll have to build some.”
Bloomberg is worth more $40 billion, and he said he’s willing to spend big to win in Texas. He’s not taking any campaign contributions, and that’s why he’s not in the debates. He added that his campaign offices will work to elect Democrats up and down the Texas ballot. They will support whoever wins the presidential nomination.
“We said that whoever wins, we would keep the major offices open ... across the country until November 3rd," he said.
Asked if that would include Texas, Bloomberg said, "Oh, yeah, sure."
But would that make a difference? Bloomberg said, "Every bit helps."
He said his primary goal is to prevent the reelection of Donald Trump.