SALT LAKE CITY — Fresh off his first debate where he played defense much of the night, Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg found a friendly crowd at a Thursday rally in Salt Lake City.
“Now I know what it’s like to be a Utah fan in Provo during the Holy War,” he said about his debate experience in Las Vegas on Wednesday night.
Making his second campaign stop in Utah where he has spent big money on TV ads and hired a large staff, the former New York City mayor said he’s running to defeat President Donald Trump and restore honor to government.
“The real winner in the debate last night was Donald Trump because I worry we may be on our way to nominating someone who cannot win in November,” Bloomberg said, adding it would be a “fatal error” for the Democrats to choose Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders because he appeals only to a small base.
Speaking to about 600 people against a backdrop of the Salt Lake City skyline with the words “Utah will get it done” at Venue 6SIX9, Bloomberg billed himself as the “un-Trump.”
“We all know that Trump is a bully. I’m a New Yorker and I know how to deal with bullies. I’m not afraid of Trump, and he knows it,” he said in a 16-minute speech to a mix of supporters and those still searching for a candidate. “He sees our poll numbers, and he is scared. That’s why he tweets about me all the time.”
Bloomberg vowed to not tweet from the Oval Office because, “I can’t spell, but then again, neither can Donald.”
Maureen Giggey, of Salt Lake City, hasn’t chosen a candidate but attended the rally to see what Bloomberg had to say.
“I think that he’s everything that I’m looking for in a president and their demeanor, the way that they handle themselves,” she said. “The things he talked about today align with my values.”
Describing himself as a doer, Bloomberg touched on his platform for lowering health care costs, passing gun safety laws, fighting against climate change, creating higher paying jobs and protecting a woman’s right to choose.
How Bloomberg came off in Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas could have a big impact on how well he does in Utah’s March 3 presidential primary. Utah is one of more than a dozen states holding elections on the day known as Super Tuesday.
“He did not fare well in the debate at all,” Sandy resident Ronald Higashiyama said while waiting for Bloomberg to take the stage at the rally. “Of course, they attacked him right off the bat. I don’t think he was as prepared as he should have been.”
Higashiyama, who identified himself as neither Republican nor Democrat, said he couldn’t get behind any of the presidential candidates in 2016. But in this election, Bloomberg “is the best choice,” citing his business success and philanthropy.
During the two-hour debate in Las Vegas, Bloomberg took shots from fellow moderates — former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Vice President Joe Biden — as well from Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, seen as the most left-leaning candidates.
Heather Lloyd, a Salt Lake mother of a 15-year-old girl, said she attended the Bloomberg rally because she’s concerned about the future.
“I feel like we need a change and I think he is the strongest candidate to possibly make it so we can get a change in the White House,” she said. “I feel really good about him winning.”
Lloyd said she was impressed that Bloomberg stayed calm during the debate despite being under attack.
“That’s the other thing we need in the White House, somebody who’s not going to bully people,” she said.
A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll in January showed Bloomberg had the strongest showing against Trump in Utah among Democratic challengers, with 32% of voters saying they’d vote for him compared to 45% for Trump.
University of Utah political science professor Tim Chambless said Bloomberg’s debate performance won’t hurt in the upcoming Nevada caucus and South Carolina primary because he’s not on the ballot in those states.
“Even if he got hammered last night, he’s not going to get punished in the elections in Nevada and South Carolina. Super Tuesday is the first day he is going to be judged, compared and contrasted,” he said after the rally.
Bloomberg has dropped more than $400 million in advertising across the country, including $3 million in Utah, since entering the race last November. About 300 Utahns turned out in January to hear from him.
On Thursday, Bloomberg reiterated that “no state is too red” for the Democratic Party, noting Rep. Ben McAdams proved that a Democrat could win a congressional seat in Utah. Mitt Romney, he said, proved that “Trump fever” can break in the state.
McAdams, D-Utah, who did not attend the rally, has endorsed Bloomberg’s candidacy as has former Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, among other Democratic leaders in the state.
“The fact that he is visiting Utah a second time before Super Tuesday shows he is committed to Utah voters and to taking the fight straight to Donald Trump,” said Bloomberg’s Utah state director, Lauren Littlefield.
“We’re getting a lot of love here from Mike.”