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As Bloomberg Drops Out, A Post-Mortem With A Campaign Adviser

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today was supposed to be the day former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg proved his strategy of skipping the first four primary contests worked. Instead, after spending hundreds of millions of dollars, Bloomberg dropped out of the race today. He didn't win one of the 14 states that voted last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I'm sorry we didn't win, but it's still the best day of my life. And tomorrow's going to be even better. And I want you to know that.

(APPLAUSE)

SHAPIRO: Bloomberg also endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden today.

We're joined by Tim O'Brien now. He's a senior adviser to the Bloomberg campaign.

Welcome.

TIM O'BRIEN: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Mayor Bloomberg spent more than anyone has ever invested in a primary. What went wrong?

O'BRIEN: Well, I mean, I think - you know, I think voters ultimately want to connect closely with a candidate. I think Mike needed more time, I think, to develop that connection. I think his first debate was a stumble.

I've said from the very beginning - you know, it's interesting to me now. People are saying you can't buy an election. And I've said that from the very beginning. I think the money Mike spent buys you exposure. I don't think Mike would have soared in the polls as quickly as he did or as robustly as he did unless...

SHAPIRO: Are you saying he needed to shake more hands?

O'BRIEN: (Laughter) Well, you know, in the coronavirus era, that's a little bit dangerous. But he was - you know, he was in 27 states. We had 2,100 people on the ground. He shook hands everywhere. What I'm saying is, you know, I think Mike has an amazing track record as a public servant and a self-made businessman and a philanthropist. That definitely connected with voters, and I think the ad buys got him exposure. And a lot of the...

SHAPIRO: But not enough to win even one state.

O'BRIEN: But we were - you know, we went from zero in the polls in early December to - you know, at one point, we were first in the polls. And the election didn't go our way, but I don't think he feels this was wasted money. You know, he focused on issue-specific ads that were good for the party and the other candidates. They're issues that the other candidates care about as well.

SHAPIRO: How harmful do you think that debate was, where Elizabeth Warren really went after him and he fumbled to respond?

O'BRIEN: I think it was a significant setback. There's no question about that. I also think he bounced back after that. I think - you know, I think voters are being very practical, as they should be this season, because the reality is, you know, there's a five-alarm fire in the White House. And Mike entered this debate and entered this race to highlight that fact.

And the infrastructure we've built and the resources he's brought to bear on this are still going to be in play behind Joe Biden.

SHAPIRO: And, you know...

O'BRIEN: It's a healthy thing.

SHAPIRO: Bloomberg only entered the race after Biden was doing poorly on the campaign trail. Now he's endorsed Biden. Have the concerns about Biden's performance and stamina gone away?

O'BRIEN: Well, Mike entered the race at a time when the field was very splintered. It wasn't just Biden's performance. There was no real clear leader in the field, and he was worried that that situation would persist up until the convention.

SHAPIRO: Well, no, but given that he's endorsed Biden, I'm just curious. I mean, Alexandra Petri, a columnist for The Washington Post, writes, I suddenly remember that Joe Biden is a dynamite candidate - something I had forgotten over the past few months of watching Joe Biden campaign. Of course, this is satire, but is that what Bloomberg is effectively saying today?

O'BRIEN: No. Mike Bloomberg is saying that he thinks Joe Biden is now the best person to beat Donald Trump, as millions of voters have now across the country. It's not just Mike Bloomberg's verdict. It's the verdict of American voters.

And, I think, at a time when the Democratic Party is back on its heels organizationally and financially, the fact that Mike Bloomberg has entered this race, opened up his wallet and given resources to the party - not to - just to himself - is a historic act at a time when Donald Trump is torching the Constitution.

SHAPIRO: As this becomes a fight between Biden and Sanders, is there a risk that Bloomberg's support could hurt Biden with younger and more liberal voters, who are skeptical about the influence of big money in politics?

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, I think that's an issue we should continue to talk about. I think Mike believes that there's a problem with money in campaigns these days. But the reality is, there's a lot more money on the Republican side. And Democrats, if they're going to win this year in the most important election of our lives, need those resources. And I would put to you, what's the right price to save the Constitution and democracy from Donald Trump?

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, is all of the infrastructure that Bloomberg set up now effectively Biden infrastructure? Will those people be working to give Biden the nomination?

O'BRIEN: Well, we're - you know, we have to go through a lot of that legally. But our - Mike's intent is to put as much of his resources and hard work behind Joe Biden as possible.

SHAPIRO: Tim O'Brien is a senior campaign adviser to former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Thank you for joining us today.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.