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Bloomberg Aims To Use Coronavirus Confusion To Appear Presidential


The issue of coronavirus and how to handle the outbreak is becoming a pretty big talking point on the presidential campaign trail. Ahead of Super Tuesday, tomorrow's big voting day, Michael Bloomberg is hoping that when voters consider who they want as president in a time of crisis, he will be their choice. Here's NPR's Susan Davis.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: At campaign stops across five states over the weekend, billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg says the coronavirus scare reminds Americans what they want in a president.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: In times like this, we need strong, proven leadership in the White House. We need someone who actually has led during a crisis, who believes in science.


DAVIS: The former New York mayor is trying to seize this moment and look like a president. His campaign produced a national three-minute campaign ad that aired last night in which it looks like he's giving an address from a room like the Oval Office.


BLOOMBERG: I was first elected just weeks after the attack on 9/11, a massive rebuilding security and health challenge. In my 12 years in office, I dealt with a hurricane, a blackout, attempted terror attacks, the West Nile virus and swine flu.

DAVIS: In recent days, as the stock market plummeted and more coronavirus cases are confirmed in the U.S., Bloomberg's new message appears to be resonating with some voters. Retired physician Ray Gibbons (ph) was at a Bloomberg campaign rally in North Carolina on Saturday.

RAY GIBBONS: I think it is a huge public health issue that requires very careful leadership on a national level.

DAVIS: Jill Birnbaum, a public health lobbyist, was at the same rally.

JILL BIRNBAUM: He, probably more than anybody, would be who I trust right now.

DAVIS: With so many primary voters still undecided, the Bloomberg campaign sees a moment. And they need it. Most polls consistently show him lagging behind Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden in the 14 states and one territory where he will appear on the ballot for the first time on Tuesday. Karen Souryal, a nonprofit consultant, showed up at a Virginia campaign rally undecided between Bloomberg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.

KAREN SOURYAL: I'm a little worried that he's a little stilted, and he needs to lose the teleprompter a little bit. I'm worried that he's not going to be dynamic enough.

DAVIS: But after hearing from him, she likes that Bloomberg is an entrepreneur who built a business, and she thinks he'd be a good manager of the country.

SOURYAL: I think that he's convinced me. He's convinced me. I think I will vote for him.

DAVIS: What Bloomberg lacks in campaign charisma, he's made up for in campaign cash. He has spent more than $500 million of his own money on campaign ads in the 100 days since he announced his campaign. That ad blitz has introduced him to voters across the country. Tina Smith (ph) is one voter who already knows him well. She lived in New Jersey during 9/11 and is retired now in North Carolina. She's already early voted for Bloomberg but worries that his ads aren't enough, especially, she says, after two shaky debate performances.

TINA SMITH: There's been a lot of focus on negativity, and he hasn't gotten nearly as much credit, I think. His ads have it, but I don't know that people can translate that.

DAVIS: At a Bloomberg rally in Tennessee, another one fully catered by the campaign - this time local barbecue - Bloomberg seemed to wonder that, too.


BLOOMBERG: You've all heard the slogan - Mike will do it; Mike will get it done. And if you haven't, I've wasted an awful lot of money.

DAVIS: One sign that Bloomberg will continue on past Super Tuesday - he'll spend election night in Florida campaigning ahead of their March 17 primary.

Susan Davis, NPR News, on the Bloomberg campaign bus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.