In South, Bloomberg aims to move past stop-and-frisk remarks

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Chattanooga Times Free Press

Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg speaks during a rally at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn. (C.B. Schmelter/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Michael Bloomberg sought to move past newly resurfaced years-old comments in which he defended the controversial “stop-and-frisk" policing tactic that has been found to disproportionately affect minorities.

The billionaire former New York City mayor, who is now seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, launched a two-day tour of the South intended to build relationships with African Americans, who are a crucial voting bloc for the party. During a stop in Chattanooga on Wednesday, he told reporters: “We're going to do very well in the African American community.”

“They need a good economy, they need better schools, they need more health care, they need jobs and those are the kinds of things that I can bring to the table," he said.

His trip began the same day that a trio of endorsements was announced from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Georgia Rep. Lucy McBath, a prominent gun control activist.

Bloomberg is testing how voters will respond to his unconventional approach to clinching the Democratic nomination to take on President Donald Trump. While most candidates have focused on the traditional early voting states, Bloomberg has taken his campaign — and his sizable financial resources — into places like Tennessee that vote on Super Tuesday. And although the Democratic contest has barely begun, he's campaigning with the air of a front-runner, announcing plans on Wednesday to open an office in New Hampshire to keep the state in the Democratic column this fall.

Democrats in the states that vote on March 3 said they're awed by the breadth of Bloomberg's operation and warned that it can't be discounted.

"Not only has he spent an enormous amount of money to get on air — more than I’ve ever seen a Democrat spend in Texas, and not just on TV, but on Facebook, social media," said Texas Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, “but what he’s done is hired a big chunk of the Latino and African American leadership to work for him and bring communities of color together behind his campaign.”

The question facing Bloomberg is whether that strategy will work as the intensity of his campaign grows. The controversy over his 2015 “stop-and-frisk" remarks demonstrated that while Bloomberg has successfully generated attention for his campaign by skipping the early voting states, flooding the airwaves with ads and traveling to multiple states a day, he hasn't faced the traditional scrutiny that comes with being a presidential candidate.