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Joe Biden wants the world to know: Mike Bloomberg isn’t Barack Obama’s bestie; I am.
The former New York City mayor has stirred up criticism from Democrats for a multimillion-dollar barrage of TV and digital ads suggesting he’s the true heir of Obama’s legacy. But Biden, who’s made his VP experience central to his candidacy, is done hearing about their purported relationship — and wants to break it up.
“He didn’t support Obama, he didn’t support the Affordable Care Act, he didn’t support the vast majority of what we tried to do, including on Wall Street,” Biden told MSNBC after Wednesday night’s debate.
“And so I think this idea, all these ads, these hundreds of millions of dollars worth of ads about he and Barack, just are not accurate,” he added.
Biden may have added an extra zero to Bloomberg’s ad spending, but it’s still huge. Bloomberg’s campaign has pumped more than $15 million into a TV spot in which an Obama voiceover introduces him as a pragmatic leader, according to the ad-tracking firm Kantar/CMAG.
“He’s been a leader throughout the country for the past 12 years,” Obama says in opening the ad, which sounds a lot like an endorsement. “Mr. Mike Bloomberg is here.”
The total Bloomerg has spent on that spot is more than the Biden campaign has dished out on TV throughout the entire race, according to FiveThirtyEight’s ad tracker.
Bloomberg’s assault on TV dovetails with more than 4,000 Facebook ads over the past 30 days that mention Obama and largely tout the two politicians’ shared work on gun safety. His campaign also repurposed the Obama-centric TV spot for YouTube, where it’s been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
“No amount of money can rewrite history,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement to VICE News. “Last night, in front of the largest Democratic debate audience in history, the mayor was called-out on his pathetic charade and Obama-Biden Administration veterans are holding his feet to the fire for this dishonesty."
Biden often trumpets that he’s the only candidate effectively on a first-name-basis with Obama. The former VP frequently highlights his work on the administration’s achievements and cut Obama-centric ads of his own, including a TV spot showing when Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
But Bloomberg has encroached on that narrative as Biden’s campaign limps toward the Nevada caucus on Saturday. At Wednesday night’s debate, which scored the highest viewership numbers of any this cycle, he tried to push the former New York mayor off his turf.
Biden went off on Bloomberg for previously calling Obamacare “a disgrace” and opposing a federal monitor for the NYPD. The body blows came hours after Biden’s campaign blasted Bloomberg’s various stances toward Obama in a Twitter video.
Bloomberg’s digital team, which has embraced a spray-and-pray strategy across the internet, clapped back with a similar repurposing of old Biden praises set to dramatic music.
For his part, Obama hasn’t uttered a peep in public about who he’s supporting this cycle. The Bloomberg campaign didn’t respond to VICE News’ request for comment on whether its ads are implicitly misleading voters that he has.
Bloomberg is neither the first nor last Democrat to use Obama in his messaging. But he has seemingly endless amounts of cash to put behind it, regardless of whether it’s revisionist history. His campaign has already spent a record sum for a presidential candidate on TV and radio airtime, according to the media tracking firm Advertising Analytics.
Obama’s relationship with the former New York mayor is far more complicated than the ads suggest. Bloomberg, a former Republican, has criticized or downplayed the former president’s signature achievements, including the Paris climate agreement and Iran nuclear deal. He also didn’t endorse Obama in 2008 and backed him just days before the 2012.
Former Obama aides like Tommy Vietor haven’t forgotten that snub in calling out Bloomberg’s messaging in recent days. “It's jarring to see all these Bloomberg ads that suggest Obama has endorsed him, especially considering how...perfunctory his endorsement of Obama was back in 2012,” Vietor, a former White House national security spokesman and current Crooked Media podcaster, tweeted Wednesday.
Fellow ex-Obama aide and Crooked Media podcaster Jon Favreau replied, “Perfunctory is putting it kindly!”
Cover image: Democratic presidential candidates, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden talk during a break in a Democratic presidential primary debate Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, in Las Vegas, hosted by NBC News and MSNBC. (AP Photo/John Locher)