WHITE HOUSE - As voters in New Hampshire went to the polls on Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump was on the attack against a Democratic Party challenger not even on the ballot in the small northeastern state.
Trump, in a tweet which was deleted minutes later, termed Michael Bloomberg "a total racist," linking to audio from remarks the former New York City mayor made in 2015 defending a controversial policy in which police targeted young men of color.
The Democratic presidential hopeful is heard acknowledging they were targeted "because that's where all the crime is."
Entering the Democratic Party presidential race last year, Bloomberg apologized for his city administration's stop-and-frisk policy, saying, "I was wrong and I am sorry."
In late 2016, Trump, as a candidate for president, remarked during a Fox News interview that the policy "worked very well" and should be implemented nationwide.
Commercials target Trump
Since Bloomberg became a Democratic presidential candidate, he has produced campaign ads attacking Trump directly. The billionaire has spent more than $310 million on advertising since entering the race.
A Bloomberg commercial released this week contrasts the uplifting rhetoric of recent presidents against some of the uncouth utterings of Trump.
Trump has belittled Bloomberg as "Mini Mike" for the candidate's short stature and labeled him as boring and a loser - typical taunts by the president against his rivals.
Trump is "very primordial," according to Peter Wehner, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. "If he views anyone or anything as a threat to him, he'll go after them without any moral parameters or any moral guidelines at all. He'll simply try to seek and destroy and he can be effective at that."
Some who have been close to Trump say the U.S. president already feels threatened by the former New York City mayor.
Trump's 'bullying nonsense'
Bloomberg "has the money, he has the personal dexterity, he knows how to handle the Trump onslaught of all the bullying nonsense," former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci told CNBC on Tuesday. "Mike Bloomberg would be the best of the available candidates to beat President Trump."
Bloomberg's television and social media advertisements have quickly propelled him to being the choice of about 15 percent of Democratic voters in recent polling. And a Quinnipiac poll this week showed Bloomberg defeating Trump in a general election matchup by nine percentage points.
The former Republican and owner of the Bloomberg financial news service is pledging $2 billion to defeat the president even if he does not get the Democratic Party nomination.
"Trump is generally focused on Bloomberg because of the sheer amount of money he's dumping into the process," says Saagar Enjeti, co-author of "The Populist's Guide to 2020."
In another tweet Tuesday morning, Trump went after Bloomberg for being a relatively unskilled golfer. The tweet included a picture of a taller Trump alongside Bloomberg on a golf course.
The campaign against Bloomberg finds the president, battling for re-election, in an unlikely alliance with minority activists who have been strongly critical of Trump's policies on race, social policy and immigration.
"If you live in New York, or know our history, you've been knowing that #BloombergIsRacist. He's awful," writer and Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King tweeted on Tuesday morning. "The world will soon know just how deep this man's bigotry goes."
Wehner, a vice president and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told VOA, "It's one thing to criticize Bloomberg for his policies when he was mayor of New York. It's another thing to say that he's a racist. It's a particularly difficult argument to sustain if you're Donald Trump, who himself has played the racial card, time and time again."
Bloomberg puts pressure on Biden
Bloomberg's surge also threatens former Vice President Joe Biden, whom mainstream Democrats have viewed as their best hope to derail the leading left-of-center candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders. They argue the self-described democratic socialist would be soundly defeated by Trump in a general election head-to-head matchup.
"I'm looking forward to debating Mike Bloomberg about his support for African Americans," Biden said on MSNBC on Tuesday morning. "I'm looking forward to debating Mike Bloomberg about his tenure as mayor ... because I sure can't compete with him in terms of money."
Bloomberg, estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth more than $60 billion, is much wealthier than Trump, whose assets are generally valued below $4 billion.
"I don't think the size of Bloomberg's wealth has anything to do with Trump being threatened by him and is more Bloomberg's proven ability to get results backed up by large amounts of cash," Enjeti, host of "Rising," a political morning show on Hill TV, a digital channel, told VOA.
It is noted that before their mutual enmity, the two New York City billionaires generally got along since their first encounter in 2001. They had in common the creation of successful businesses named after themselves and, more recently, achieving unexpected victories as political novices despite repeatedly switching party affiliations.
Observers say the relationship began to change into a rivalry when Trump decided to run for the presidency and Bloomberg did not.
During the 2016 campaign, Bloomberg criticized Trump as a "risky, reckless and radical choice" by the Republicans. That prompted some of the first critical Trump tweets about Bloomberg, which declared he had been "a disaster" as mayor of the country's most populous city.