Sanders, Bloomberg Test Different Paths to a California Win

LOS ANGELES (AP) — One is spending millions of dollars flooding the airwaves from Los Angeles to Sacramento, highlighting his tenure as mayor of the nation's largest city and commitment to key Democratic causes. The other has hired 80 staff members to knock on doors, organize volunteers and promote his message of political revolution in at least seven languages.

No two Democratic presidential candidates are putting as many resources into the fight for California as Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman and former New York mayor, and Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator. Sanders is marshaling his passionate volunteers to win the biggest prize of the presidential primary season, while Bloomberg arrives with a virtually unlimited checkbook after a late entry in the race.

For now, they're deploying different strategies. Bloomberg is focused on television advertising, long viewed as the best way to reach voters in the state that is home to 40 million people, while Sanders is focused on door-to-door campaigning on the ground. But they each have the resources and plans to do both, and earlier than most of their rivals.

As Bloomberg spokesman Jason Schechter put it: “California is extremely important to Mike.”

Bloomberg, who entered the race last month, is bypassing the first four voting states and anchoring his strategy to California and other Super Tuesday states, hoping a strong showing will carry him to the top of the field. Sanders, meanwhile, has a grassroots infrastructure in place from four years ago and is treating California as importantly as earlier contests like Iowa and New Hampshire. He's vowing to win the race.

Bloomberg, though, will not be one of the seven candidates who will gather Thursday in Los Angeles for the sixth and final debate of 2019. He is unable to qualify for the contests because he is not accepting campaign donations. Sanders will be onstage alongside former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Kloubchar, businessman Andrew Yang and billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer. Steyer will be the only Californian on stage after Sen. Kamala Harris suspended her campaign, opening a scramble for her home-state donors and support.

California moved its primary up to March in 2020, from June in 2016, in an effort to have more sway over the nominating process. However, it’s possible that no candidate emerges from California with a decisive win because of the maze of rules used to divvy up the state's haul of 495 delegates, far more than any other state.

Still, the trajectory of the race in California, where roughly 14 million voters will be eligible to participate in the Democratic primary, largely mirrors what's happening nationally. Polls from the Public Policy Institute of California and CNN in November and December, respectively, show Biden, Warren and Sanders ahead of the rest of the field.

Buttigieg, who has reached front-runner status in Iowa and New Hampshire, remains in single digits.

Although California sends out mail-in ballots for early voting on Feb. 3, the same day as the Iowa caucuses, millions of voters will not cast ballots immediately and may be heavily influenced by what happens in earlier voting contests.