Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg returned to Arkansas Monday, the second time he has visited the state since announcing he was running for the nation's highest office. The former New York City mayor walked near the front of Little Rock’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. parade, surrounded by supporters wearing "I Like Mike" shirts and waving signs.
Bloomberg’s decision to run came too late for him to participate in the first four primary states or be part of the widely-broadcast Democratic candidate debates. Arkansas is one of 14 states that make up Super Tuesday, holding elections on March 3, which could be decisive in who is still a viable candidate.
"Arkansas is one of those states that people look to. It comes early in the cycle," Bloomberg said in an interview with KUAR News before the parade. He also came to the state in November to file in-person at the Capitol to run for president during the candidate filing period.
Bloomberg also alluded to the state’s racial history, which includes the forced desegregation of Central High School in 1957 in which federal troops had to escort nine black children into the school, past segregationist mobs. He had visited Tulsa, Oklahoma on Sunday and said it was "particularly moving" to be in Little Rock on the holiday celebrating the legacy of the slain civil rights leader.
"Both cities have evolved and today are very different than they were before. They’re role models. They understand their history, and they’re trying to make it better for all citizens," Bloomberg said. "Both cities are diverse in this day and age, and I want to present my case and try to convince people that we need a manager in the White House, not a legislator in the White House."
Bloomberg touted his 12 years as mayor of New York City, saying crime, the homeless population and pollution were reduced, while there were improvements in education and public health.
While marching in the parade, Bloomberg told reporters that he specifically chose Little Rock to celebrate the King holiday.
"This is important because of what the day is, and it sends a message that Little Rock is one of those cities that really has made itself open to everybody, and it’s progressive."
Dr. Heather Yates, a political science professor at the University of Central Arkansas, says it will be a challenge for Bloomberg to amass the needed number of delegates to win the nomination at this late stage of the presidential contest.
"He kind of put himself in this position where he’s forced into this strategy to make up for lost ground because he missed critical filing deadlines last summer," Yates said. "So what he’s trying to do is, by coming to a lot of these Super Tuesday states focusing on that March 3 primary… is make a push for that visibility. Now whether or not that is a successful strategy will remain to be seen, but that’s where he’s spending a lot of his time and energy."
Yates says each state party having different rules will work against Bloomberg as he tries to make up for lost time. She also expects some skepticism about his loyalty to the Democratic Party.
"I think his campaign needs to not underestimate the Arkansas voter because something that he does not have that other candidates have is a stable history of partisan attachment to the Democratic Party, and voters see that. He has a history of being a Republican turned independent, filed Democrat," Yates said. "I’m sure that a question Arkansas Democrats are going to have is 'why the Democratic Party' and 'why now."
She expects it will be clear by the end of the March 3 elections whether Bloomberg has the support to win the nomination.
Jackie Bell and Jessica Taverna were at the parade representing the group Mom’s Demand Action, which advocates for gun reform laws. Neither was familiar with Bloomberg’s opinions on gun control, but said they were impressed that he was participating in the parade.
"That’s actually amazing," Taverna said. "I would have never guessed he would have been here."
Bell added, "I’m glad to see him be in the south and feeling the kind of problems that we have and trying to make it feel safe."