LITTLE ROCK, Ark — With leading Democratic presidential candidates marching together in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in South Carolina, Mike Bloomberg followed a novel campaign trail to Little Rock to take part in the city’s annual “Marade.”
“This is important because of what the day is and it sends a message that Little Rock is a progressive city,” the former New York City mayor said.
It also sent a message that Arkansas is now important to presidential hopefuls. The state’s primary moved from May to March in 2016 to join other states in Super Tuesday.
“What’s different now is all the states are equal in terms of their importance,” Bloomberg said. “Some have more delegates than others, but the days of states being guaranteed red or guaranteed blue I think are over.”
Arkansas changing colors isn’t likely in November, but Bloomberg is more worried about scoring victories as quickly as he can after early voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. His November entry into the race, months after the leading contenders, relies on Super Tuesday boosting his moderate pitch appeals to frustrated Democrats.
“My voter is somebody that wants good government. Somebody who’s not too ideological but wants services delivered to people that need those services,” he said in an interview before the march and parade.
That business-first approach – touted on numerous campaign ads in Arkansas – should draw support here, but no matter how close he plays to the center, his stance on gun control won’t pull many on the right, at least for now.
“Well there’s already 20 states that have background checks,” he said. His non-profit Everytown for Gun Safety has emerged as the leading counterweight to the National Rifle Association in debates over the Second Amendment.
“I don’t want to take away anyone’s guns. I just don’t think we need to have AK-47s that were designed as weapons of war to kill people,” he said.
Prior to coming to Little Rock, Bloomberg announced a new social justice policy in Tulsa, Okla. It calls for sentencing reforms while hoping to blunt criticism of New York’s “stop-and-frisk” police policies that reduced violent crime, but has also been blamed for unfairly targeting African Americans and Hispanics.
As volunteers chanted, parade watchers mostly greeted Bloomberg with curiosity. Fellow politicians welcomed the national attention to the normally ultra-local event.
“Anytime you get a credible presidential candidate to come to your city and your state twice, it says something,” said Little Rock mayor Frank Scott Jr.
Bloomberg went from the parade to a service project at a nearby charter school. He helped fill backpacks for the needy and greeted alumni of local African American fraternities and sororities. Bloomberg was a strong supporter of charter schools during his three terms in New York, but campaign officials said the location of the service project was a coincidence.