By Joseph Ax
DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) – Democratic presidential contender Tom Steyer on Monday said he expected to leave Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses “with momentum” that carries him later this month to Nevada and South Carolina, where he has shown more strength in opinion polls.
In an interview with Reuters hours ahead of the first votes of the 2020 presidential campaign, the billionaire-turned-activist also said fellow billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s unorthodox decision to skip the first four voting states meant he had forgone a crucial element for a White House candidate: listening to voters.
“I’ve been a grassroots organizer full-time in the United States for the last seven or eight years,” Steyer said. “That means I’ve been going and looking people in the eye across the country.
“Skipping the first four primary states means skipping the opportunity to have that face-to-face interaction.”
Former New York Mayor Bloomberg, who entered the race in November, has said he was forced to concentrate on later states after launching his campaign so late.
Steyer pointed to a new poll from Morning Consult that put him in third place among the four early states as evidence that his message is connecting with voters. Eleven contenders are competing for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in November.
Iowa polls have put Steyer’s support in the single digits despite a lengthy bus tour and an aggressive advertising campaign.
Steyer, who spent more than $200 million of his personal fortune on his campaign last year, has said he would make climate change his No. 1 priority while fighting to break what he characterized as a corporate stranglehold on the U.S. government.
He has sought to portray himself as the candidate best equipped to beat Trump, who is likely to put the growing U.S. economy at the core of his re-election effort.
“I’m also the person who built a business from scratch and can go toe-to-toe with Mr. Trump on the economy and beat him,” Steyer said. “I’m an outsider, not a career politician from Washington, D.C.”
Steyer’s poll numbers have been robust enough to qualify him for recent presidential debates, and he is expected to be on stage on Friday in New Hampshire at the next televised debate.
He criticized the Democratic National Committee on Monday for changing its rules in a way that will make it easier for Bloomberg to qualify for future debates, after ignoring Steyer’s call last year to relax polling requirements to allow diverse candidates such as U.S. Senator Cory Booker to join.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)