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Wake Up To Politics - Exclusive interview with Bill de Blasio

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, June 3, 2019. 245 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 519 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Welcome to a special edition of Wake Up To Politics: an exclusive interview with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on his 2020 presidential campaign, which follows WUTP's scoop on his announcement last month. This will be the final edition of the newsletter for the summer -- I'll be back in your inbox in August!

Exclusive: De Blasio plots "underdog" campaign

Democratic presidential candidate Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, has yet to exceed 1% in polls of the sprawling 2020 primary field. 76% of his constituents didn't want him to seek the White House, according to a Quinnipiac University poll, and neither did many of his own donors and allies. But, in his telling, he just has "some catching up to do."

"I've been in ten elections," de Blasio told Wake Up To Politics in an exclusive interview Sunday. "I've won all of them. I usually was an underdog starting out. I've been able to turn the tide regularly. ... I think the same pattern will happen that's happened in all my other elections."

De Blasio said he doesn't put much stock in the many polls that show him with little to no support, often languishing behind competitors such as former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and even fellow mayor Pete Buttigieg, who governs a city 80 times as small as New York. "The only poll that we can actually believe is the election, because everything else [shows only] a point in time," de Blasio asserted. He went on to draw a comparison to presidential candidates who bucked expectations in 2016, including Sanders and the very man he hopes to remove from the Oval Office, Donald Trump.

"I'm someone who has watched conventional wisdom be disrupted more and more in American politics," he said, adding: "I just think we're in a time where polling doesn't tell us that much and what really matters is how things play out when people get to hear the whole picture." De Blasio insisted that Democratic voters he had met so far are "keeping their powder dry," and "want to consider a wide range of candidates" before picking their favored contender. "I like what I'm seeing and I think it's very fertile ground," he said of the states he has visited since announcing: Iowa (twice), South Carolina (twice), and Nevada (once).

The mayor repeatedly expressed confidence that his support would grow once voters hear more about his "vision for the country," but when asked to detail what his top policy priorities as president would be, he declined to elaborate much further beyond his boilerplate "putting working people first" slogan. "I'm going to certainly, in the coming weeks, more and more, put out the position papers to lay that out," he demurred.

But de Blasio did point to two reforms he has been able to implement in New York City that he would hope to nationalize: universal pre-K and protections for unions. In fact, de Blasio frequently highlighted his record as mayor — his "executive experience" and "ability to produce, to take progressive values and put them in action" — as the feature that distinguishes him in the 24-person presidential field. "That's unusual and I think people will see it as something special," he said, adding that he has held "the second toughest job in America" as leader of the country's most populous city.

De Blasio's campaign was boosted over the weekend with an early state endorsement from Michael Butler, the mayor of Orangeburg, South Carolina. A spokesperson said additional endorsements would be unveiled soon, as would more formal policy proposals.

In the two-and-a-half weeks since launching his presidential bid, de Blasio has already traded blows with President Trump, at a time when some Democratic candidates have opted not to focus on the commander-in-chief directly. The mayor told WUTP that while Democrats "first have to talk about the interests and needs of working people," it is also important that they "be willing to take on Trump and confront him."

"And I know how to do it," he continued, "because I've watched this guy for decades and he has a very specific bag of tricks and strategies. You can follow the pattern and it's quite clear how to deal with him, but it takes a certain toughness to handle him and to not be thrown off by his moves."

"I mean, he is a con artist," de Blasio added. (The mayor has taken to referring to the president as "Con Don"; in response, Trump has called de Blasio "the worst mayor in the history of New York City.")

The president's attacks did elevate de Blasio somewhat in the early days of his campaign, potentially helping to alleviate one of the greatest challenges facing his bid: low name recognition (48% of likely voters said in a recent poll they hadn't heard enough about him to form an opinion). But despite these numerical warning signs — including his 0.3% polling average, tied for 15th place — the mayor remained optimistic throughout the interview.

"I do not worry about what the early polling shows," he declared firmly. "The vast majority of people are starting with a blank slate. And that's fine. I can work with that."

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