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The leading Democratic presidential candidates, all of whom are starting the race at the starting line, marched Monday in Columbia, S.C., in holiday honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

South Carolina will have an important early primary Feb. 29 that will be heavily influenced by black voters.

Joe Biden is the prohibitive favorite there, owing to black support that holds strong for him in poll after poll. But Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer and Tulsi Gabbard were there walking with him Monday, locked by arms.

Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg, who will join the Democratic race in progress on Super Tuesday, and who has reserved from his personal fortune about a quarter-billion dollars' worth of television advertising leading up to that, spent Monday morning walking in Dr. King's honor on the humble streets of inner-city Little Rock.

"It's worth taking note when a presidential candidate is marching on High Street in Little Rock, now named for Dr. King," Frank Scott, the first popularly elected black mayor of Little Rock, told me.

Referring to the avenue as High Street invoked its deep racial history in the city and made Bloomberg's presence on it seem somehow even more notable.

It was the New York billionaire's second trip in two months to our city. The former New York City mayor came here Nov. 12 to file for office at the state Capitol, either because he couldn't find anyone local to do it for him or he thought it was a handy occasion to demonstrate early that he was serious about this race, as he indeed seems to be.

He was in Little Rock on Monday because Arkansas is a Super Tuesday state, albeit a small one. It also offered on the occasion of Dr. King's birthday celebration a venue of historic racial significance.

It was much the same thinking that had him spending Sunday in Tulsa, site of a race massacre in 1921.

In Tulsa, he gave a major policy speech about his plan to stimulate black home ownership, black business enterprise and black neighborhood revitalization. He said America's racist history had robbed black Americans of opportunity, and that he, as a white man of privilege uncommonly blessed by opportunity, wanted to be president to set about correcting that. He stopped short of endorsing reparations, leaning on the crutch of study, which is the politically wise choice.

He wanted to be in Little Rock because of the famous Central High desegregation crisis of 1957. He described Tulsa and Little Rock as vibrant and progressive cities with good local leadership that were rising from their troubled histories, though there always was work to be done.

Obviously, Bloomberg is making a play for black votes on Super Tuesday. Obviously, those would be taken from Biden. Obviously, his strategy is either to supplant or replace Biden as the supposedly more electable center-left alternative--ideally, for him, based on an unimpressive showing by Biden in the first four contests.

Bloomberg needs for Biden to under-perform by front-runner standards in Iowa, then New Hampshire, then Nevada. He looks locked to win in South Carolina. And the latest polls in Iowa show Biden in a lead, albeit of inconsequential margin counting undecided voters, as Sanders and Warren behave destructively toward each other.

If Biden wins Iowa and then wins big in South Carolina, even Bloomberg's millions and smart issue-targeting probably won't matter. Biden would have transformed himself from apparent front-runner to real one. The look of a winner is a typical propellant in presidential primary seasons especially when states start holding primaries one right after the other if not at the same time.

Through all that, Bloomberg remains a mildly fascinating Democratic presidential prospect.

Donald Trump has started worrying about him on Twitter.

Bloomberg's essence would be that he's plenty liberal; after all, he has spent others of his personal millions to advocate background checks and permits for gun purchases.

That he had the audacity to march in our state in honor of Dr. King caused Sen. Trent Garner of El Dorado--the arch-conservative fraidy-cat who doesn't want any refugees from persecution coming to his town--to go on Twitter asking people to send him money. Garner implied laughably that Bloomberg was in Little Rock as a threat to take guns.

But Bloomberg's essence also is that he might beat Biden at his own electability game. He conceivably could do that by his business success, New York mayoral performance and skills of communication exceeding Biden's in clarity, confidence-generation and gaffe-avoidance.

Bloomberg has landed endorsements from the mayors of Memphis, Louisville, Columbia and Augusta, Ga., When in Little Rock Nov. 12, he lunched at Sims Bar-B-Que with Mayor Scott. On Monday, Scott marched near this man favoring his town with a return visit.

That prompted me to inquire of the Little Rock mayor about whether he had any leanings in the Democratic presidential affair, taking note that Cory Booker, who had endorsed Scott for mayor back in '18, had suspended his campaign.

"I haven't decided whether to make any endorsement," Scott said, "but I will say that I'm very grateful that one candidate would be here not once, but twice, in a short period of time."

He said he understood that other candidates needed to be elsewhere.

He called Bloomberg's candidacy "very intriguing," which is certainly so.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Web only on 01/22/2020

Print Headline: BRUMMETT ONLINE: An intriguing visit

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