DENVER ― In front of any other audience, it would have been a risky opener.
Just after taking the stage at his presidential campaign’s new flagship office in downtown Denver on Saturday, Michael Bloomberg — net worth $61 billion — joked about wanting to find a stand-in so he could instead spend the day at his Vail vacation home.
Instead of alienating the at-capacity crowd in the 5,000-square-foot former Patagonia store, the largely white, slightly older audience gave a knowing laugh.
While Bloomberg’s wealth has drawn scorn from critics who accuse him of attempting to buy the presidency, that concern wasn’t shared by many attendees.
Kristi Sweeney, a certified financial planner who was in attendance with her husband, gave Bloomberg a pass on his self-funded campaign given what she sees as the urgency of getting President Donald Trump out of office.
“I can understand peoples’ concerns, but this is a unique election,” she said. “I don’t think a candidate should have to have wealth, but the fact that he is wealthy might be a plus in this election.”
The self-described moderate said she was also weighing the candidacies of Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former Vice President Joe Biden. “We’re looking for the candidate who can win,” said Sweeney. “We’re desperate for that.”
Bloomberg didn’t mention a single primary challenger in his 15-minute stump speech, instead going after the president on issues like gun control, health insurance “for everyone who needs it,” education reform and climate change.
“We need someone that does not cast aside Trump voters as bad people. They voted for him because they’re desperate,” said Phil Ord, a 28-year-old self-described pro-nuclear environmentalist. “We can’t just ignore parts of the country.”
In one of his bigger applause lines, the former New York City mayor called out Trump for being a climate denier. “I’m an engineer, I actually believe in science,” he said. “Imagine that!”
That was welcome news to Rich and Tami Ward, who described themselves as “all in” on Bloomberg after the event. Rich, 48, listed the environment, gun control, and improving teachers’ salaries, as priorities, as did Tami, who owns a local hair salon.
Despite being all in, Tami acknowledged that “if Bloomberg doesn’t get the Democratic nomination, obviously we’ll get behind someone.”
So will Bloomberg. If he doesn’t secure the nomination, he’s pledged to support whoever does ― a point he made Saturday to big applause.
Others seemed a bit less open-minded.
Asked if she was considering any candidate other than Bloomberg, Denver real estate agent Marilyn Newell was emphatic: “Not only no ― hell no,” she said. “I wish [Sens. Elizabeth] Warren and [Bernie] Sanders would go back to the Senate and do their jobs.”