Around the Country in 17 Hours With Michael Bloomberg

WELLS, Minn. — Michael R. Bloomberg walked among the silos, bundled and reddening in the nine-degree air, negotiating the icy path that delivers a billionaire presidential candidate past the grain bins and the cameras and the tractor — straight into the middle of somewhere his advisers decided he should be.

That place, at approximately 2 p.m. on Wednesday, was the cavernous maintenance space of a soybean farm in rural southern Minnesota, a state that does not vote until March, where a dozen reporters and a handful of locals had gathered to watch Mr. Bloomberg hold forth on the majesty of agriculture.

“You’re the backbone of America,” he told his hosts, who wore microphones for the occasion.

“I eat what you grow,” Mr. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, observed at one point. They thanked him for his business.

“It’s easy for us living in big cities to forget about the rest of the world,” he remarked before he left. “You don’t see it every day.”

Here, Mr. Bloomberg was trying to see it, and be seen seeing it, for a finely calibrated subsection of this particular day. The mics were cut after 14 minutes. Reporters were hustled away. Mr. Bloomberg climbed behind the wheel of the tractor — glistening with a fresh wax job from the proprietor’s teenage children — then eventually back into a waiting vehicle bound for an airplane to somewhere else.

There is a way that people generally run for president. And there is whatever Mr. Bloomberg is doing.

Looking past Iowa and New Hampshire to focus on the delegate-rich contests that come in the months that follow, Mr. Bloomberg is betting that his zag-while-they-zig electoral strategy and functionally bottomless resources can make him the standard-bearer of a Democratic Party whose 2020 primary has been defined in part by progressive disdain for the billionaire class.

It is not quite, as admirers present it, that Mr. Bloomberg is a chess-master whose opponents play checkers; he is more accurately working to bury the board with a gusher of cash so overpowering that everyone forgets how the game was always played in the first place.

His itinerary on Wednesday included a community college in Chicago and a hydroponic garden in Akron, Ohio, tied to the release of Mr. Bloomberg’s economic proposals. He left New York around 6 a.m. and was back just before 11 p.m., a schedule that called to mind the final sprint of a general election, when both parties’ nominees blitz the nation with small armies of aides and scribes on hand to record their every utterance and statesmanlike stroll down a jet-side staircase.

That Mr. Bloomberg is ostensibly skipping ahead has appeared to be part of the point, introducing him to states unaccustomed to seeing presidential contenders this early in the year.

“It’s pretty exciting to think that you shook the hand of a maybe-president,” Lexi Johnson, the 16-year-old daughter of the soybean farm’s owner, Darin Johnson, told a local television station as Mr. Bloomberg’s entourage returned to its motorcade out of this town of 2,200 or so.

In an election season where the wisdom of the traditional early-state calendar has been questioned as never before, the travels of this maybe-president may register as eminently reasonable when set against a system that compels candidates to celebrate themselves for touching down in all of Iowa’s 99 counties for some reason.

His campaign said that it employs more than 800 people, including more than 500 in over 30 states, many of which will be battlegrounds in the fall for the Democrat who faces President Trump. Certainly no candidate in modern political history has built a more expansive operation in less time, positioning Mr. Bloomberg to capitalize on any support he can generate, should it ever arrive in large numbers.

But about that part.

As unusual as Mr. Bloomberg’s chosen geography at this stage is his approach to voter interaction. Most candidates have tried to maximize their exposure to flesh-and-blood Democrats, treating both larger-scale rallies and extensive one-on-one engagement as the bare essentials of running for president.

At times, Mr. Bloomberg can appear to be campaigning with greater efficiency in mind. This is a man known to disdain those who stand on escalators, a mayor who once advised New Yorkers to distinguish themselves in the workplace by minimizing bathroom breaks.

At City Hall, Mr. Bloomberg was famous for timing meetings to the minute for peak performance. Occasionally on Wednesday, his state-hopping could feel bound by an invisible clock, ticking the moments until his safe return East.

Asked for a picture after his event in Chicago, Mr. Bloomberg grimaced a bit: “Yup. Quickly.”

“We need somebody like you!” a woman called out.

“If you say so,” Mr. Bloomberg replied.

The gathering supplied some evidence that Mr. Bloomberg had a constituency outside of Manhattan.

“It’s nice to be able to stand behind a candidate you truly believe in,” said Eric Zollinger, 45, a current Chicago resident who lived in New York for all 12 of Mr. Bloomberg’s years as mayor. He wore a shirt and button that read, “I Like Mike.” (Asked if others in Illinois, which votes in mid-March, shared his appraisal, Mr. Zollinger allowed that he did not generally dress this way in public.)

Other data points seemed less encouraging. Several of the more than 100 people in the room said they had come as a favor to a staff member they knew, offering “moral support,” as one put it, in lieu of political support. An aide approached two African-American men to ask if they might be more comfortable onstage, behind Mr. Bloomberg and in view of the cameras. They did not bite.

Mr. Bloomberg’s final stop of the day was in Ohio — Primary Day March 17 — where he accepted the endorsement of Mayor Daniel Horrigan of Akron. The event, inside a city “innovation hub,” did draw a few hundred people.

Mr. Bloomberg indulged photographs for perhaps 10 minutes, rarely changing his expression. (The former mayor does not so much smile as train his permanent semi-smirk in the direction of the photographer.)

He autographed baseballs for eager attendees, declining only to sign what appeared to be a doctored image of him smoking marijuana in a Knicks uniform. He was handed a baby: “I just rented a baby,” he reported, holding the child from its midsection with both hands and spinning a little.

“He needs to get out there,” said Diane Hawk, 54, from Akron, calling Mr. Bloomberg one of her top choices so far. “Call in, go on CNN, get our face out there.” So far, she has been likelier to see his face during a commercial break.

Never a particularly gifted retail politician — even before he took a decade off from campaigning for office — Mr. Bloomberg has a weakness for shtick, often followed by a note of but-seriously-folks.

After being introduced in Chicago by a woman who outlined her career path at McDonald’s, Mr. Bloomberg declared himself “more of a Subway sandwich guy.” “No oil or cheese or extra vinegar, please,” he said. “Seriously, it’s great to be here on the South Side of Chicago.”

In Akron, he suggested that “grandkids are great because you can send them home,” before adding, “My daughters, all kidding aside, turned out fine.”

Riffing on the city’s reputation as the onetime “rubber capital of the world,” Mr. Bloomberg insisted that his campaign was “not trying to invent the wheel” and “not trying to reinvent the tire, either.”

The joke did not kill. “My staff came up with that,” he said.

Mr. Bloomberg rarely mentions his opponents, or even acknowledges their existence unless prompted, as he was when a reporter inquired about Senator Elizabeth Warren calling on his company to release former female employees from any nondisclosure agreements. “Maybe the senator should worry about herself, and I’ll worry about myself,” Mr. Bloomberg said tersely.

He has appeared more animated relaying the minutiae of his travels.

Summing up his day before the Akron crowd, Mr. Bloomberg sounded almost giddy, his pace quickening as he shared his impressions of the farm. “I just came from a farm, a soybean farm, in the coldest place — you have no idea how cold it is out there,” he said.

He said he was seeing parts of the country “that in all of my 77 years before I never got a chance to see.”

And he seemed at least slightly surprised that anyone had bothered to come see him. Stepping down from the lectern, Mr. Bloomberg struck up a conversation with two women before either had a chance to request a picture. He leaned in a bit.

“Thank you for coming,” he said, almost smiling. “It’s a real honor to have people come.”

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