CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in Iowa Tuesday he would do everything he can to make climate change the defining issue of the 2020 Democratic presidential nominating campaign, despite resistance in regions of the country his party would likely need to recapture the White House.
Like Bloomberg, who was making his maiden trip to the leadoff caucus state as a presidential prospect, fellow billionaire Tom Steyer was also taking his message of fighting climate change to South Carolina, the nation's first Southern primary state. Steyer is also weighing a 2020 Democratic presidential bid.
The two deep-pocketed Democrats were making parallel moves Tuesday, with Bloomberg visiting renewable energy sites in Iowa and meeting with gun-control advocates, while Steyer planned to host a town hall-style meeting in Charleston, South Carolina.
"I will do everything for sure to try to make it the issue," Bloomberg told reporters after visiting a solar-electric panel installation company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "Every place I have gone, people always want to talk about the climate. They always want to bring up the fact that I've been very active in closing coal-fired power plants."
Both men have been noncommittal about whether they will run for president in 2020. But with as many as two dozen Democrats considering a campaign, they were joining the growing list of visitors to early voting primary and caucus states. Iowa is scheduled to host the leadoff caucus state in February 2020.
While both men put the climate atop their agendas, and have spent millions promoting awareness and solutions, they could face skepticism in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, where President Donald Trump won in 2016 by promising to protect the coal industry.
Bloomberg has said Trump is not suitable for the presidency, and elaborated Tuesday. "It's an inquisitiveness issue and a willingness to look at data and look at facts," he said, noting Trump's comment that he did not believe his administration's report projecting dire consequences of climate change.
Despite their common wealth and climate change advocacy, Bloomberg and Steyer disagree on a key point.
Steyer aired ads throughout the year advocating for Trump's impeachment, based on indictments of aides to the president's campaign.
Bloomberg, however, said, "It would be a mistake to say anything about that before you see what comes out of the investigation" into Russian election meddling being conducted by former FBI Director Robert Mueller.
While Bloomberg made his Iowa debut on an icy rooftop under light snow in bracing 26 degrees, Steyer headed for the more temperate South Carolina Coast.
The two spent millions during the 2018 midterm campaigns to help Democrats regain control of the House.
Jumping off that success, their travel gives them new opportunities to test their message and, perhaps most importantly, gauge the interest of Democratic primary voters and activists in the potential candidacies.
In the Des Moines area, Bloomberg was visiting a community college's wind-energy program and was scheduled to meet with mothers organized to curb gun violence before attending a screening of his climate change film, "Paris to Pittsburgh."
Dale Todd, a Democratic city councilman from Cedar Rapids, praised Bloomberg for his business success and for spending tens of millions of dollars to promote awareness of Democratic priorities, but had reservations.
"There is the age question for me. It shouldn't prohibit him from running, but it's a concern for me," Todd said of the 76-year-old Bloomberg. "Whoever I support I'd like to be around for a bit of time. I would hate to put a big investment in someone that old and have something happen to them."
Todd was an early backer of Barack Obama's 2008 campaign and has provided some early help to New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who is also eyeing a White House bid. Todd said he's looking for a presidential nominee to represent emerging generations of party leaders.
Bloomberg contributed $250,000 to the Iowa Democratic Party this year, giving him some claim to gains such as capturing two Republican-held House seats last month. He also has plans to meet with key Democratic operatives. But other potential candidates, including Booker, Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, have been more aggressive in their efforts.
Bloomberg said in a recent Associated Press interview he would have to be close to a decision by mid-January, and said Tuesday that in the meantime, "I get to go around and to ask people in Iowa what's on your mind."
Steyer, also told the AP recently he was still considering whether to run and how he could have the biggest impact.
If he did jump into the race, Steyer would have at his disposal the more than 6 million person email list from his Need to Impeach campaign against Trump, as well as the resources of his advocacy group, NextGen America.
Steyer resisted comparisons between his efforts and Bloomberg's and argued that the former mayor — he recently re-registered as a Democrat — "has tried to be very bipartisan" and hasn't always supported the party. Bloomberg gave almost exclusively to Democrats during the 2018 cycle.
"We're really trying to build a grassroots infrastructure and the broadest democracy, and he's much more focused on winning specific races," Steyer said. "We're making a long-term commitment and building an organization. One of the things I say, which I think is true, is that we didn't just get young people to vote. We turned them into voters. They'll hopefully think of themselves very differently in 2020."