Michael Bloomberg told supporters that Arizona could pave his path to the White House, with the state as a major battleground of the 2020 presidential election.

“The road to the White House runs through Arizona,” he told a cheering crowd at a weekend rally to open his Arizona campaign office.

In his wide-ranging address, the former mayor of New York City, a Democrat, also spoke of offering citizenship to U.S. residents who are undocumented, touted gun reform and action against climate change and income inequality.

The crowd cheered as Bloomberg referenced immigration, called to extend citizenship to “the 11 million people living in shadows” – a figure based on a Pew Research Center report.

Bloomberg was a late entry to the Democratic race, and he has followed an unconventional route. The billionaire is financing his own campaign and opened his Phoenix office while most candidates – including frontrunners Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – were courting voters in Iowa ahead of the nation’s first caucus on Monday.

Bloomberg told a packed downtown warehouse of supporters that while other candidates are currently campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, Arizona is at the top of his agenda because of its status as a potential battleground state in the 2020 election.

The Arizona appearance was his largest campaign rally to date, according to Anaiis Ballesteros, the digital director for Bloomberg’s Arizona campaign. An estimated 1,400 turned out, according to campaign officials.

“In 2016,” Bloomberg said, “the national (Democratic) party didn’t compete to win here, and our campaign is not going to make that mistake this November.”

Supporters of presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg packed into a warehouse in downtown Phoenix as he opened his Phoenix campaign office. (Photo by Farah Eltohamy/Cronkite News)

President Donald Trump barely carried Arizona in 2016 but collected all 11 electoral votes. Arizona, which in recent decades has leaned Republican, shows promise for Democratic voters in the upcoming election.

“Republicans call it a red state. Some Democrats say it’s purple,” Bloomberg said. “But why don’t we call it what it’ll be in 2020 – a blue state.”

Bloomberg touted achievements as New York’s mayor from 2002 to 2013 as key points to defeating Trump on Nov. 3. His talking points were geared toward issues critical to Democratic voters.

Calling himself a self-made billionaire with an estimated net worth of $60 billion, Bloomberg said he tackled wealth inequality during his time as mayor.

“We brought people together and we created nearly 500,000 jobs and 175,000 units of affordable housing, we reduced street homelessness by 30 percent, we launched new programs to fight poverty and we rebuilt our cities stronger than ever,” he said.

Before Saturday’s rally, Bloomberg proposed a tax plan on the rich and corporations that would generate $5 trillion in revenue.

Former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, who co-chairs Bloomberg’s Arizona campaign, said he can win in Arizona with his approach that “attracts people in the center.”

The extremely wealthy should be willing to pay an additional amount to help counter Trump’s spending, he said.

“That’s interesting, coming from somebody like Mike, somebody who’s very wealthy, he recognizes that we need to make certain that this is a fair tax bill,” Johnson said. “In my opinion, the changes in the tax code that he presented were fair and moderate, and they run up the center as we should.”

He also made other claims to success as mayor, from reducing the city’s carbon footprint to setting up gun reforms despite opposition from the National Rifle Association.

Bloomberg did not address one of the controversies that sticks with him as he runs for office. He has apologized for his controversial “stop-and-frisk” policing tactic, which disproportionately affected people of color for a decade.

Rep. César Chávez, a Democrat who represents the Phoenix neighborhood of Maryvale, south Glendale and Litchfield Park, attended the rally. Chávez said Bloomberg has learned from his “stop-and-frisk” past and is now making sure that disenfranchised people are being provided with the resources they need to be successful.

“As somebody who was undocumented, as somebody who’s openly gay and serving in the state Legislature, I will say that Mike Bloomberg has the only plan that is equitable and measurable,” Chávez said. “Not only that – transparent – making sure that we’re able to hold him accountable.”


Story by Farah Etohamy, Cronkite News