MUSCATINE, IOWA – With only a week to go before the first votes of the 2016 presidential race, Republicans on Sunday waved around endorsements from others and dismissed former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a potential third-party threat.
Democrats, who could be hurt most by a Bloomberg candidacy, didn’t shrug off the prospect. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is surging against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in early voting states, urged Bloomberg to “bring it on.”
Clinton acknowledged that Bloomberg had gotten her attention — but suggested the threat could be irrelevant.
“The way I read what he said is if I didn’t get the nomination, he might consider (running),” she said on NBC TV’s “Meet the Press. “Well, I’m going to relieve him of that and get the nomination so he doesn’t have to (run).”
The comments came as Republicans chose sides among their candidates and billionaire businessman Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz battled for primacy in the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses, which lead off the state-by-state nominating contests. Slowly, some establishment Republicans were heading in Trump’s direction largely because he’s not the combative Cruz. And Cruz was showing off his marquee endorsement from Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who is influential with the most conservative Iowans. Trump on Sunday dropped another name as he played defense against charges that he’s only been a conservative for a few years.
“I am a conservative,” Trump, endorsed this week by 2008 vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, said on NBC. “And what I say to people is this: Ronald Reagan. He was a somewhat liberal Democrat, and over the years, he evolved and he became fairly conservative. Not overly, a fairly conservative Republican.”
A televised spat ensued over who’s a conservative.
“Donald Trump is not a conservative, and you need a conservative to lead the conservative party into the general election,” two-time Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said on ABC TV’s “This Week,” touting his endorsement by former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.
Trump on Sunday attended the hour-long service at the First Presbyterian Church in Muscatine, Iowa.
Religious voters are a big factor in the Republican caucuses in Iowa, and Trump is working to build his appeal among them, especially considering that Cruz is the son of a conservative evangelical preacher and has strong support among evangelicals in the Midwestern state.
Clinton has been endorsed by several members of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, and Secretary of Housing and Urban Devlopment Julian Castro, the former San Antonio mayor who has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick should Clinton win the nomination.