Even so, Mr. Shrum, who teaches at the University of Southern California, said that almost any viable Democrat running this year will talk in some way about having a president who is there to serve the people, not the powerful, the theme that Mr. Shrum coined for use in Mr. Gore’s 2000 campaign.
Susan E. Howell, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of New Orleans, said that even in an era of populist backlash against the wealthy, the message could backfire.
“What’s working against Warren and Sanders is that, let’s face it, we are a capitalist country with a capitalist culture,” she said. “And I think the working class in a large part, over time, has bought into this. This has been our culture, that you can work hard and become a Bloomberg.”
Mr. Bloomberg, a businessman regarded as an economic centrist, was a loyal ally of Wall Street while he was mayor of New York City, but he has nevertheless embraced the liberal side of some of the country’s most pressing social issues — including climate change and gun control. As mayor, he was known for fighting the tobacco and soft drink industries.
He is rated 10th on the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans, with a net worth of about $40 billion, and he has become a deep-pocketed force in progressive politics. Organizations controlled and funded by Mr. Bloomberg recently spent more than $100 million promoting two dozen Democratic congressional candidates in the 2018 midterm elections. Of those, 21 won.
Mr. Wolfson pointed out that Mr. Bloomberg has been criticized before for self-funding his campaigns but still won in his three successive mayoral races — in which he spent close to $300 million. Running as a independent in 2009, he outspent his opponent, Bill Thompson, by 14 to 1. Despite wide speculation that he is running, Mr. Bloomberg has not entered the race.
Paradoxically, in an era of populist backlash against the wealthy, more and more candidates are self-funding, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. There is evidence, though, that self-funders generally don’t win in political campaigns, although it’s not entirely clear why.