RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — If there is a state where Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg could expect a return on investment, it is Virginia.
By investing millions on state legislative races, Bloomberg helped Democrats take back the statehouse last fall. With full control of government in Virginia, Democrats have started pushing through progressive legislation on everything from gun control to gay rights.
And the state could serve as a centerpiece of his unorthodox campaign strategy of skipping the early primary states to compete in the 14 states that vote on March 3, Super Tuesday.
At a Saturday campaign event, Bloomberg told a crowd of more than 900 that he’s running a campaign focused on defeating President Donald Trump — and that to win in November, “we absolutely have to win this commonwealth.”
“I am running to defeat Donald Trump and I am running to restore honor to our country, to build a country that we’re proud of, and to start getting things done. To start putting the word ‘united’ back in the United states of America,” he said.
Bloomberg launched his campaign with a handful of events in Virginia, has opened seven offices across the state and has a staff of more than 80 people on the ground. His Saturday visit was his sixth to the commonwealth, the most visits to any state so far, he told the crowd.
Bloomberg touted his investments in local elections but also thanked all the Democrats who worked on those races for “never losing faith in a red commonwealth turning into a blue commonwealth.”
“That is what we did,” he added.
His longtime political investments in the state have helped win fans among voters and local elected officials alike. State legislators and new members of Congress — almost all of them women — have counted him as a supporter. His campaign to take on the National Rifle Association has helped advance aggressive control legislation in the General Assembly.
His advocacy for combating climate change and challenging big tobacco play well in the increasingly wealthy and diverse suburbs in the northern part of the state and critical swing counties like Henrico and Chesterfield outside of Richmond
Few states show the Democrats’ hope that demographics are destiny better than Virginia. Its Washington suburbs have become more wealthy and more diverse. The mix of highly educated, higher-income voters and striving immigrants in professional jobs sees the Democratic Party as more tolerant than the GOP.
Democrats have also harnessed the emerging political power of women to great effect. In the state legislature, a woman is now speaker of the House for the first time. Virginia’s congressional delegation saw three women defeat incumbent Republicans.
Republicans like former Rep. Tom Davis concede that his party has been hurt deeply by the perception that it is anti-immigrant, a theme that Trump has reinforced loudly and often. The GOP also has been hurt by Trump’s rhetoric and policies toward federal workers, tens of thousands of whom live in Virginia.
Trump’s initial “good people on both sides” reaction to the white supremacists rally and deadly violence in Chartlottesville also helped to galvanize Democrats.