Bloomberg broadens his war on the Tea Party, but quietly

Bloomberg in Rockaway. (via NYC.gov)
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Michael Bloomberg may be staying out of the presidential race, but that doesn't mean he's sitting out the 2012 cycle.

Bloomberg, an independent, has been helping a number of centrist congressional candidates, albeit in a less conspicuous way than he did in 2010, when he campaigned in California and Rhode Island and sat for a rare newspaper interview to publicly proclaim his crusade against the Tea Party "boomlet."

In recent months, the mayor has held a handful of fund-raisers at his Manhattan townhouse, several of which had gone unreported until now, and contributed a flurry of donations to moderate candidates across the country.

His pattern of support this year, true to form, is aggressively nonpartisan. But broadly speaking, the Bloomberg agenda seems to be driven by a desire to build a bulwark against the Tea Party, albeit with a carve-out for conservative Republicans who, for various reasons, he likes.

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In August, Bloomberg hosted a fund-raiser for Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who the mayor bolstered in 2006 when he dispatched five administration aides to help her defeat incumbent senator Jim Talent, in part because McCaskill actively supported stem cell research.

This year, McCaskill is running against Republican congressman Todd Akin, an outspoken abortion opponent whose comments about "legitimate rape" caused the national G.O.P. to disavow him and gave Democrats new hope she could hold the seat in an increasingly Republican state.

More recently, the mayor hosted the former first lady of Iowa, Christie Vilsack, a Democrat who is running a surprisingly competitive House race against Republican congressman Steve King, a Tea Party favorite and one of the few Republicans to express support for Akin's comments.

The mayor's style of centrism calls for a fairly rigid equivalency when talking about Democrats and Republicans, and a certain even-handedness in his support for candidates from both parties. 

He sees himself as a champion of moderation: His recent beneficiaries include moderate Democrats trying to defeat socially conservative Tea Partiers, and Republicans willing to promote abortion rights and gun control from within the party. And he has long tried to balance his pro-business bent with a commitment to liberal social policies, reportedly telling some fellow guests at a charity event that he couldn't back Mitt Romney because of his positions on gun control and abortion rights

But Bloomberg also rewards what he sees as a willingness to act independently, even when the beneficiaries oppose central elements of his agenda.

In July, while he was actively pushing for a national debate on gun control, Bloomberg was forced to explain his support for Republican Senator Scott Brown, who was less supportive of gun laws than his opponent, Elizabeth Warren. Bloomberg said he was rewarding Brown for bucking his party on an important National Rifle Association vote.

Bloomberg also held a fund-raiser outside of Chicago for freshman Rep. Robert Dold, one of seven pro-choice Republicans in the House. Dold broke with his party to speak in favor of Planned Parenthood funding on the House floor, and has touted his work with Bloomberg to close the gun show loophole. Dold was an original member of the nonpartisan group No Labels.

Later this month, Bloomberg will host a truly unlabeled candidate for another fund-raiser at his Manhattan home: former Maine governor Angus King, who is running as an independent for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring incumbent Republican Olympia Snowe.

Last week, Bloomberg gave $500,000 to the aspiring third-party vehicle Americans Elect for an independent expenditure campaign to support King. (Bloomberg's fund-raiser will be for contributions to King's campaign account, not for an independent expenditure campaign.)

Bloomberg also made a handful of smaller $2,500 donations over the summer.

In Arizona, he gave to Richard Carmona, a former independent who served as surgeon general under George W. Bush before being recruited by President Obama to run for the Senate as a Democrat. Carmona, who grew up in tough circumstances in the Bronx, is running against Tea Party congressman Jeff Flake, who was backed in the primary by Sarah Palin.

Bloomberg also gave to David Cicilline, the openly gay former mayor of Providence, who was a member of Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, and founded the "Congressional Common Ground Caucus" last year with Hudson Valley Republican Nan Hayworth. 

In Florida, Bloomberg gave to incumbent Senator Bill Nelson, who is running against the conservative former senator Connie Mack III. 

He also gave to former Orlando police chief Val Demings, one of Democrats' favorite candidates this cycle, who is running against Tea Party incumbent Dan Webster, who beat Alan Grayson for the seat in 2010. (Demings recently told Marie Claire that she keeps a 9-millimeter handgun in her purse.)

Earlier in the cycle, in November of last year, Bloomberg gave $2,500 to Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, who faced Tea Party opposition this year and who Bloomberg has celebrated as an example of a bygone spirit of bipartisanship, even though he told the Times in 2010 that he wouldn't have voted for Hatch, because "he's too conservative for me."

Bloomberg has been less concerned about appearing nonpartisan at the state level; he recently gave $1 million to help State Senate Republicans maintain their majority in Albany, saying Democrats' stint in power had been "an embarrassment to this whole state." And he contributed $75,000 to the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of four Democrats in the State Senate who broke with their colleagues to form their own caucus last year, led by State Senator Jeff Klein.