San Francisco Billionaire Tom Steyer Launches 2020 Presidential Bid, Reversing Earlier Decision

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Anti-Trump billionaire Tom Steyer announced his presidential bid on July 9, 2019, after previously saying he wouldn't run. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Tom Steyer, the San Francisco billionaire and climate activist, launched his 2020 presidential bid Tuesday, despite having ruled out running earlier this year.

The 62-year-old hedge fund investor enters the race a day after Rep. Eric Swalwell announced his decision to drop out, replacing him as the 23rd candidate in a very crowded Democratic primary field.

Steyer, who plans to spend at least $100 million of his own fortune on the race, hit the ground running: He has already poured hundreds of thousands of TV ad dollars into media markets in early primary states like New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, according to Advertising Analytics.

It's not the first time Steyer has paid out of pocket for political advertising — earlier this year he pledged $40 million toward an ad campaign pushing for the impeachment of President Trump.

As news broke of Steyer's announcement to run, his name shot to the top of Twitter's San Francisco trending page, filled with biting critiques and suggestions for how his money might be better spent.

"If Tom Steyer is going to light $100 million on fire to pay for a doomed presidential campaign, he should give that money to Flint for clean water instead," activist and filmmaker Adam Best wrote in a tweet.

Who is Tom Steyer?

But Steyer defended his reversal, noting that since his initial decision in January to not seek the nomination, he's grown increasingly frustrated by the slow pace of the Democratic-controlled House's investigation of Trump.

Roughly half of the Democratic presidential contenders have called on House Democrats to start an impeachment inquiry, an action Speaker Nancy Pelosi has strongly resisted as politically foolhardy.

Despite becoming nationally known as a leader in the effort to impeach Trump, Steyer made no mention of it in his campaign announcement, focusing instead on his goal to reduce corporate influence in politics.

Citing issues including climate change and the opioid crisis, Steyer said that in nearly every "major intractable problem, at the back of it, you see a big money interest for whom stopping progress, stopping justice is really important to their bottom line."

"We have a society that's very unequal," Steyer said in his announcement video. "And it's really important for people to understand that this society is connected. If this is a banana republic with a few very, very rich people and everybody else living in misery, that's a failure."

Steyer also announced that he would step down from his leadership roles in the climate advocacy group NextGen America and Need to Impeach, both groups he founded and largely bankrolled. But he said he has committed more than $50 million through 2020 to continue funding both organizations.

Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor, whose net worth is estimated at $1.6 billion, were among the first to sign the Giving Pledge, committing to donate at least half their wealth during their lifetimes to "good causes."

More on Election 2020

Steyer joins the race just three weeks before the next round of Democratic presidential debates, and could struggle to secure a spot on stage. To qualify, candidates must either receive 1% support in three approved polls or have 65,000 unique campaign donors.

Although he likely won't meet the polling requirements to participate, he may clear the fundraising threshold. Steyer hasn't been included in any polls since January, and in the only two DNC-sanctioned polls that he was included in — a national poll from CNN/SSRS and a Selzer & Co. poll of Iowa, both conducted in December — he received 0% support.

This is not the first time Steyer has considered running for office: He toyed with entering the race for California governor in 2018 and for U.S. Senate in 2016, ultimately deciding not to run.

This article includes reporting from Juana Summers of The Associated Press.