Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer become kingmakers for Democrats as both billionaires mull a 2020 run

Key Points
  • Billionaires Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer were the top donors to Democrats throughout the 2018 election cycle. 
  • Both could see each other go head to head in a 2020 primary battle for the White House. 
  • Those close to Bloomberg and Steyer say they're contemplating running for president. 
Michael Bloomberg (L) and Tom Styer
Getty Images

Billionaires Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer became powerful kingmakers for Democrats running to unseat Republicans in this year's midterm elections as they each contemplate a run for president in 2020.

Bloomberg became a game-changing figure for Democrats as his candidates stormed the U.S House of Representatives to help retake the majority.

Based on voting projections, Bloomberg is expected to see 21 of the 24 House candidates he supported through his super PAC Independence USA win their races.

Those candidates include former Obama official Haley Stevens who is projected to be the first Democrat to hold Michigan's 11th District since the late 1960s and former NFL linebacker Colin Allred in Texas' 32nd District who overtook longtime GOP Rep. Pete Sessions.

The PAC spent $2 million in support of Stevens and $1.4 million against Sessions, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Most of the PAC's funds in 2018 went toward TV and digital ads.

Democrats clinched the 218 House seats they needed to become the majority. There are at least 15 additional toss-up seats that have yet to be called.

In a press release on Wednesday, Bloomberg's chief spokesman, Stu Loeser, said the former New York City mayor spent more than $110 million to elect Democrats this year.

Bloomberg celebrated the victory by taking aim at President Donald Trump's administration.

"By winning the House, Democrats can now serve as a bulwark against a White House that has shown no respect for the rule of law - and no interest in bringing the country together." Bloomberg said in a statement. "The Democrats' gains demonstrate that the American people want Congress to stand up to a reckless, divisive president - and to work across the aisle to tackle tough issues. Millions of Americans poured their hearts into the campaign to retake the House - and I was proud to be a part of the effort. We can do better in America today, and we must start now," he added.

There was one investment that didn't pan out for Bloomberg and that was his $20 million contribution to the Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC intended to help Democrats make inroads in the U.S. Senate.

Democrats so far have lost at least three Senate seats to Republicans: Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, Missouri lawmaker Claire McCaskill and one-term Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida called for a recount after NBC News projected that his race with the state's former governor, Rick Scott, was too close to call. Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester was named the apparent winner by NBC News on Wednesday.

Democrats picked up one seat in Nevada as U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen is the projected winner over Republican incumbent Sen. Dean Heller. They may also add a seat in Arizona but that race is still too close to call.

Steyer shows he can make a difference in key elections

Candidates backed by Steyer also had a strong showing throughout election night.

Steyer's PAC, NextGen Climate Action, supported at least two dozen Democrats during the midterms, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Of the races his organization became involved with, approximately 12 so far have flipped in the Democrats favor. The others are either yet to be called by NBC News or fell to Republican challengers.

The victorious Steyer backed candidates include Rosen — the PAC spend just more than $600,000 on her campaign — and former CIA operative Abigail Spanberger of Virginia's 7th District. NextGen supported Spanberger with just more than $100,000, helping her defeat Republican rival Dave Brat.

Steyer also worked to help Democrats through his Need to Impeach campaign, which in the past has called on voters to demand through its online petition that Trump be removed from office.

The Need to Impeach super PAC spent just more than $9 million on the midterms with most of the funding coming from Steyer himself. Steyer guaranteed he would spend $120 million earlier this year and went as far as spending $16 million in the final stretch of the election.

Steyer's lead strategist, Kevin Mack, said an interview that Need to Impeach "won at least 70 percent of its targeted races and that could grow to 76 percent when all of the ballots are counted."

However, Steyer was involved in key races that didn't go his way. One of those contests was Florida's governor's race. The California billionaire invested $14 million in support of Democrat Andrew Gillum and he was the only candidate Need to Impeach officially endorsed this cycle.

Gillum conceded the race late Tuesday to former GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis.

When asked about the losses in pivotal races, Mack pointed back to its success in the House.

"No one got everything they wanted last night. That's Democracy. Our top priority was winning the House. Mission accomplished," he said.

Two billionaires considering a run for president in 2020

The long-term ambitions of both of the top Democratic donors includes setting their sights on a possible run for the White House.

Those close to Bloomberg said the odds of him running going into the midterms was at 50 percent. But they noted that if the Democrats regained the House, it could give the former New York City mayor the confidence he needs to commit to running in a Democratic primary for president.

Bloomberg's moderate political views could isolate him from the growing left wing of the Democratic Party, his associates worry. His positions on cutting entitlements in order to reduce the deficit and not legalizing the sale of marijuana are among those that could make him unpopular with liberals.

Still, his closest confidants point to his passion for fighting the National Rifle Association as a sign that Bloomberg is fearless and is willing to take on some of the most powerful lobbying groups to effect change.

A recent CNN poll of possible 2020 contenders showed 4 percent of respondents preferring Bloomberg to run for president.

A spokesman for Bloomberg did not return a follow up request for comment.

Steyer has also kept the door open to running for president.

When asked if the strong midterm results gave Steyer the momentum he needs to move forward with a presidential run, Mack didn't rule it out.

"Tom is looking at ways to make the biggest impact moving forward. There are many decision to be made," he said.

Steyer's political positions include a universal health-care system, fighting climate change and impeaching the president.

His efforts to impeach Trump may hurt a Steyer presidential run. Fifty-four percent of voters say Congress should not impeach Trump, while 41 percent say Congress should do so, according to Tuesday's NBC News exit poll.