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Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg: ‘I know how to unite people’

Speaks to several hundred Utahns at downtown event

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Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg greets supporters after speaking at a campaign event at Impact Hub in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg declared himself the “un-Trump” and promised to bring his successes as New York City mayor to the White House to an enthusiastic crowd during a brief campaign stop in Utah Saturday.

“I’m a doer. I’m a problem solver, not a problem creator,” Bloomberg said, describing his style of leadership as much different than President Donald Trump’s. “I nurture good ideas. I hold myself accountable for results. ...I know how to unite people.”

Several hundred people crowded into Impact Hub, a downtown co-working space, to hear from the 72-year-old billionaire, the first presidential candidate to make an appearance in Utah this year in advance of the state’s Super Tuesday presidential primary on March 3.

Utah voters “have been ignored by national Democrats for too long,” Bloomberg said. “We shouldn’t be writing off any state, no matter how red people think it is. And after all, Democrats have shown they can win here, especially with Donald Trump in the White House. Just ask Congressman Ben McAdams and he can tell you.”

The energy behind the referendum to repeal Utah’s tax reform law “can be tapped into by the right Democratic candidate for president,” he said. “Someone who can compete statewide and help lift up other Democrats up and down the ballot. That’s why we’re here today and why we’ve opened a campaign office just right down the street.”

Bloomberg pledged to support whoever becomes the Democratic Party’s nominee for president but warned Trump will “attack pie-in-the-sky ideas that just won’t work here. Against the danger of another four years of the most reckless president we’ve had in modern history, I think I prove that you can have good leadership.”

He touted his record as mayor of what he called the biggest, most progressive city in the country in dealing with health care, education, homelessness and climate change, as well as his efforts on gun control and protecting a woman’s right to choose abortion, saying he has a record of taking on tough fights and getting things done.

“Think of it this way, in the race for president, I am the un-Trump,” Bloomberg said, an alternative to what he called “chaos and tweeting” by the president.

“I see a country that is being torn apart and I just know we can do better,” he said during a nearly 20-minute speech punctuated by applause and cheers. “Even though this is a time of terrible division in our country, I believe that we can once again come together and build a country that we’re proud of. It’s not going to be easy.”

The candidate got a few laughs, including when he made a passing reference to the missionary work done by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, saying “I know quite a few of you have very valuable experience knocking on doors and convincing people to take leaps of faith, so I really hope to earn your support.”

After his speech, Bloomberg told the the Deseret News in an interview that he has seen a lot of differences in Utah since spending time skiing at Snowbird in his youth. He brought up Matt Easton calling himself “proud to be a gay son of God” in a 2019 BYU commencement speech as an example.

“That tells you that things are changing in the church. If they are willing to do that, they are probably willing to listen to anything,” Bloomberg said, adding he was “annoyed that they dropped out of the Boy Scouts. I don’t know why. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Maybe they’ll come back.”

He said he believes Utah is a place “that you would think would find a lot of Trump’s behavior irresponsible.”

Asked about whether he could support a compromise between LGBTQ rights and religious liberty, Bloomberg said: “if you talk to the activists, they would say, ‘No. There’s no compromise.’ I fundamentally think you’re either in or you’re not. It shouldn’t be the government that tells you who you can marry, who you love. As long as you don’t do something that hurts others, I’m enough of a purist to think that you should be in charge of your own destiny.”

He said he doesn’t agree that protecting LGBTQ rights, such as through the Equality Act passed by the U.S. House to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender, compromises the rights of religious-based schools and others that practice faith in the public square.

But, Bloomberg said, “I respect their right to think that.”

Asked if his stand could be an issue with Utah voters, he said, “some people might not like it. But at least, look, I’ve never been ashamed of what I believe. I think a lot of people who don’t agree with me would at least respect me for being willing to say it rather than ducking the question, which is standard operating procedure, but not for me.”

Bloomberg said he’s “not terribly religious, but I’m Jewish, proud of my religion. I was raised in a Jewish family, learned some values from it. I think that we should not tell you whether you have to believe or what to believe in. I do think separation of church and state is terribly important.”

He said that’s because “someday the majority is not going to be on your side. They’re going to be on the other side. So you should remember that when you try to foster your beliefs on others. We are all better off if we treat it separately. You can believe or not. You can live your life based on your faith or not. That should be up to you.”

Bloomberg is spending big money in Utah on TV commercials that have been airing since his entry into the race last November, and now, on a Utah campaign office that’s expected to grow to as many as 20 people in several locations around the state.

“It is so wonderful to have a candidate that is putting real resources into the state of Utah,” said Lauren Littlefield, state director of the Mike Bloomberg 2020 Utah campaign and a former Utah Democratic Party executive director. “Mike Bloomberg is making a commitment to Utah, and Mike is a doer, not a talker.”

She said Bloomberg has already hired eight people in Utah, including Andrew Roberts, who’s also the campaign manager for the state’s only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams; David Everitt, former Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker’s chief of staff; and Rudy Miera, from state Sen. Luz Escamillia’s campaign for Salt Lake City mayor.

“We believe Mike Bloomberg is the alternative to Donald Trump Utahns can get behind. We plan to run an aggressive field campaign,” Littlefield said, to get as many Utah voters as possible “excited and ready to support Bloomberg on March 3.”

The push in Utah is part of Bloomberg’s national Super Tuesday strategy. Instead of campaigning in the first four states to vote in the presidential primaries — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — he is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the more than a dozen states holding elections March 3.

In their 2016 presidential caucus vote, Utah Democrats overwhelmingly backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders over the party’s eventual nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, choosing a progressive candidate over one seen as more moderate.

Bloomberg told the Deseret News that a lot of those voters didn’t like Clinton.

“She’s not in it this time. It’s four years later and I offer a different choice. I offer somebody who’s fiscally conservative but socially liberal,” he said.

Could he win over progressive Utah Democrats?

“You won’t get all of them. You won’t get those who are very far left but you will get a decent number of Republicans who don’t like Trump’s style, want good management,” Bloomberg said, along with many unaffiliated voters.

Jill Kogianes of Salt Lake City said what she heard from Bloomberg Saturday won her vote.

“I think he can get things done,” she said. “I just believe that past performance predicts future performance.”

This election, Democrats in Utah as well as the rest of the country face finding a candidate who can take on Trump, who is running for a second term after being impeached in the House for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in connection with having sought political favors from a Ukrainian leader.

Scott Howell, a former Democratic Utah Senate leader, is supporting former Vice President Joe Biden for president but said either Biden or Bloomberg “present the very best opportunity to take back the White House.” He said beating Trump is what Utah Democrats should be thinking about when they make their primary election pick.

“We can all cast a vote for someone we all feel good about emotionally, but then reality hits. Utahns know fiscal responsibility,” Howell said, and understand that promises made by Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other progressive candidates about a single-payer health care system and free college won’t work.

Before Saturday’s event, Bloomberg met privately with a group of community and political leaders. He arrived in the state mid-afternoon from California, and was headed to Tusla, Oklahoma, after doing interviews with Utah media.

Other presidential campaigns have been sending surrogates to the state, including Biden’s wife, Jill, who appeared at a fundraiser at the University of Utah’s law school earlier this month. Chasten Buttigieg, the husband of candidate Pete Buttigieg, is holding an event in Utah on Jan. 23.