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Bloomberg Spends Big Out West, Luring Staff To His Campaign

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Former New York mayor and Democratic presidential contender Michael Bloomberg is sparing no expense when it comes to his presidential campaign, whether he is spending on Super Bowl ads or social media influencers. The total to date - more than 400 million. But as the Mountain West News Bureau's Madelyn Beck reports, a lot of that money is going to hire campaign staff in a part of the country that doesn't usually see that much activity. That is good for Bloomberg - maybe not so good for other Democratic campaigns in the region.

MADELYN BECK, BYLINE: The office is hard to miss if you're driving by. There's signs coating the windows saying, I like Mike, and Idaho for Mike 2020. Inside the Boise office, you're welcomed by more signs and a seemingly true-to-size cardboard cutout of Bloomberg himself. A white-and-brown dog lies on the floor nearby as a handful of people work at folding tables.

ERIN HUDSON: Hi.

BECK: Hello. Are you Erin?

HUDSON: Yes.

BECK: Madelyn.

HUDSON: Nice to meet you.

BECK: Erin Hudson is the spokesperson for Bloomberg's campaign in Idaho. She wouldn't say how many people Bloomberg has hired here, but she did say they'll be at offices in Boise, Pocatello and Coeur d'Alene ahead of the state's March 10 primary.

HUDSON: So we'll have hubs in those sections of the state, and then we have teams all over the state.

BECK: Bloomberg is the first Democratic presidential candidate to open offices here so far. He's also staffed up aggressively in Utah and even hired someone in Wyoming. Some of those jobs pay $6,000 a month, plus benefits. Hudson says Bloomberg's big coffers definitely give him an edge.

HUDSON: So we're not waiting on fundraising, and we're not waiting on one field person having to recruit a team of just volunteers.

BECK: At last count, she says Bloomberg had offices in 43 states. And if Bloomberg loses the nomination, she says these offices will work with whoever wins.

HUDSON: So whoever that nominee is, they're coming in to this well-built structuring team that's ready to help them out and get to that end goal.

JACLYN KETTLER: There will be some challenges with that approach, right?

BECK: That's Jaclyn Kettler. She's a political scientist at Boise State University.

KETTLER: If that organization continues to be operated by him and not connected to the Democratic Party, there can be coordination issues. There can be mixed messaging.

BECK: That said, Kettler suspects Bloomberg and his campaign may be promoting this idea of sharing the wealth for a good reason - image. She says this could show he's helping the Democratic Party overall. And he's doing this in a place that doesn't generally get a lot of attention from Democrats - the rural Mountain West. States like Idaho haven't voted for a Democratic president since Lyndon B. Johnson. One result of this spending - it's also buying up all the political talent before other candidates get a chance to.

KETTLER: It is a pretty interesting tactic to try to monopolize, you know, a lot of the experienced campaign staff in a region.

BECK: While your competitors are focused on the early voting states. That said, Hillary Clinton campaigned with more offices and staffers in much of the West, too, and lost big to Bernie Sanders in states like Utah and Idaho.

KETTLER: Just because you spend the most does not mean you're going to win.

BECK: And money isn't everything. Sanders has volunteer networks built up from 2016. Other campaigns have been working hard to build them, too.

Ben Halle is a spokesperson with Pete Buttigieg's campaign.

BEN HALLE: In order to scale up in a real way, you really need to have a grassroots volunteer network that is on the ground in all those states that's from those communities that's organizing those communities.

BECK: Regardless, Bloomberg is digging deep into his campaign's pockets to reach Mountain West voters before they pick their ideal Democratic candidate in the coming weeks.

For NPR News, I'm Madelyn Beck in Boise.

KELLY: And that story comes to us from the Mountain West News Bureau, a public media collaboration from the region.

(SOUNDBITE OF CSS SONG, "INTO THE SUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.