Politics

How Mayor Bloomberg used gun control to unseat SoCal congressman

At least one high-spending SuperPAC achieved its goal in the November election. That SuperPAC belongs to Michael Bloomberg, the media mogul and billionaire mayor of New York City. Formed in the last few weeks before the election, the committee went looking for a race where it could make an immediate impact. It found one in the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles and blanketed the district with a last-minute TV ad and mailings aimed at defeating Democrat Joe Baca. The ads got Democrat Gloria Negrete McLeod elected, by hitting Baca on an issue no one knew was on the table in that district: gun control. Bloomberg's committee spent $3.3 million, way more than both of the candidates combined. The tactic worked, says NPR's Peter Overby.

Bloomberg — who is neither Democrat nor Republican, but an independent centrist — launched Independence USA PAC just 2 1/2 weeks before Election Day. His third term as New York mayor is winding down, and his focus is shifting to national politics, with education reform, marriage equality and gun control his core issues.


Howard Wolfson, a longtime aide to Bloomberg who guided the superPAC, said they were looking for "the right race and the right set of circumstances."

The first thing they wanted was a clear contrast between the candidates on an issue of real concern, such as guns. Wolfson said Baca, a Blue Dog Democrat, had gotten high ratings from the National Rifle Association.

Another measure of the right race was one that wouldn't be on everybody's radar.

"We deliberately chose a race that had not been targeted by others. We didn't want to be in the middle of a crowded field. We wanted to stand out," Wolfson said.

And if the race was a sleeper, without much outside money, there probably wouldn't be much inside money, either. Wolfson said it meant that "we would have a big impact, based on our ability to go on television versus the candidates' inability to go on television, from a financial standpoint."

Besides the high-priced TV buys, Independence USA PAC mailed fliers across the district that went after Baca on guns. The superPAC spent about $3.3 million on the race — nearly three times as much as both candidates combined.

Good line from Riverside Press-Enterprise columnist Dan Bernstein: "There's probably one man in America, in this campaign, who cared about gun control. And it's Mayor Bloomberg."


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