WASHINGTON (AP) — Michael Bloomberg is reaching out to prominent Democrats in key states and scrambling to meet fast-approaching primary filing deadlines, his first steps toward formalizing a late run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Among those Bloomberg has reached out to: Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor who remains popular in the state. Vilsack told The Associated Press that Bloomberg called him Thursday evening and left a voicemail indicating he plans to run.
"He is in," Vilsack said of Bloomberg's message.
Bloomberg advisers say the former New York City mayor has not made a final decision on whether to launch a White House run, but acknowledged that he is moving quickly to preserve the option.
Bloomberg was expected to file paperwork to get on the ballot in Alabama ahead of the state's Friday deadline and is also making plans to file in Arkansas, which has a Tuesday deadline.
The billionaire businessman is reconsidering a presidential bid because he is worried the current crop of Democrats is not well positioned to defeat President Donald Trump. He's spent the past few weeks talking with prominent Democrats about the state of the race, expressing concerns about the steadiness of former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign and the rise of liberal Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, according to people with knowledge of those discussions.
Biden, campaigning in New Hampshire on Friday, welcomed Bloomberg to the race.
"Michael's a solid guy, and let's see where it goes," he told reporters. "I have no problem with him getting in the race."
Bloomberg's moves come as the Democratic race enters a crucial phase. Biden's front-runner status has been vigorously challenged by Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who are flush with cash from small-dollar donors. But both are viewed by some Democrats as too liberal to win in a general election faceoff with Trump.
Trump told reporters Friday that Bloomberg might well spend "a lot of money" but "doesn't have the magic to do well." Trump suggested he'd easily beat the former mayor and fellow billionaire.
"Little Michael will fail," Trump said at the White House, adding: "There is nobody I'd rather run against than Little Michael, that I can tell you."
Despite a historically large field, some Democrats anxious about defeating Trump have been looking for other options. Former Attorney General Eric Holder and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick have quietly had conversations with supporters urging them to consider a run, but neither appears likely to get in the race.
Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent who registered as a Democrat last year, has flirted with a presidential run before but ultimately backed down, including in 2016. He endorsed Hillary Clinton in that race and, in a speech at the Democratic Party convention, pummeled Trump as a con who has oversold his business successes.
Bloomberg plunged his efforts and his money into gun control advocacy and climate change initiatives. He again looked seriously at a presidential bid earlier this year, traveling to early voting states and conducting extensive polling, but decided not to run in part because of Biden's perceived strength.
With immense personal wealth, Bloomberg could quickly build out a robust campaign operation across the country. Still, his advisers acknowledge that his late entry to the race could make competing in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, which have been blanketed by candidates for nearly a year, difficult. Instead, they previewed a strategy that would focus more heavily on the March 3 "Super Tuesday" contests, including in delegate-rich California.
Some Democrats were skeptical there would be a groundswell of interest in the former New York mayor.
"There are smart and influential people in the Democratic Party who think a candidate like Bloomberg is needed," said Jennifer Palmieri, who advised Clinton's 2016 campaign. "But there is zero evidence that rank-and-file voters in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire feel the same."
Bloomberg reached out to several prominent Democrats on Thursday, including Vilsack and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo. One Democrat Bloomberg hasn't spoken to as he's reconsidered his run is former President Barack Obama.
Bloomberg would pose an immediate ideological challenge to Biden, who is running as a moderate and hopes to appeal to independents and Republicans who have soured on Trump. But the billionaire media mogul with deep Wall Street ties could also energize supporters of Warren and Sanders, who have railed against income inequality and have vowed to ratchet up taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
"He's a literal billionaire entering the race to keep the progressives from winning," said Rebecca Katz, a New York-based liberal Democratic strategist. "He is the foil."
Warren on Thursday tweeted: "Welcome to the race, @MikeBloomberg!" and linked to her campaign website, saying he would find there "policy plans that will make a huge difference for working people and which are very popular."
Bloomberg would face other challenges as well, particularly scrutiny of his three terms as mayor. He has defended the New York Police Department's use of the controversial stop-and-frisk policy that has been criticized as targeting African Americans and Hispanics. Black voters in particular are one of the most powerful constituencies in Democratic politics.
In Arkansas, another Super Tuesday state, a Democratic Party spokesman said a person representing a "mystery candidate" reached out Thursday afternoon asking about the requirements to join the ballot. Reed Brewer, communications director for the Arkansas Democrats, said he walked the individual through the process — which simply requires filing documentation with both the state party and secretary of state, as well as paying a $2,500 fee — and was assured that the fee would be "no problem" for the mystery candidate.
There is no filing requirement for a candidate to run in the Iowa caucuses, which are a series of Democratic Party meetings, not state-run elections. It means a candidate can enter the race for the Feb. 3 leadoff contest at any time.
Beaumont reported from Des Moines, Iowa. Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in Washington; Alexandra Jaffe in Des Moines, Iowa; Michelle R. Smith in Providence, R.I.; and Nicholas Riccardi in Denver contributed to this report.