Rob Christensen

A billionaire who wants to impeach Trump is working to turn out North Carolina voters

Tom Steyer drew the ire of President Donald Trump over the weekend, when he called the Democratic billionaire “a lunatic.”

Asked about about the jibe, Steyer chuckles.

“I have two older brothers and they have said meaner things to me,” Steyer during a stop Tuesday at Sir Walter Coffee in downtown Raleigh.

More serious than words was the pipe bomb targeted for him that was intercepted by officials last week. He wants to make sure that none of his family or staff get hurt.

Steyer, a 61-year old retired hedge fund manager, philanthropist, and environmentalist, should be used to the rough and tumble of the campaign trail by now – especially in today’s ultra-polarized environment.

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Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer speaks during a news conference in Washington, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018. Tom Steyer will tout his Need to Impeach campaign Tuesday night in Charlotte. Carolyn Kaster AP Photo

Steyer has been crisscrossing the country for his two groups – NextGen America, which is organizing to register and turn out voters in the midterm elections, and Need to Impeach, which is seeking to build support for Trump’s impeachment.

He has spent more than $120 million this election cycle – the most of any Democrat – and said he has signed up 6 million people to his organization. An Atlantic magazine article published earlier this month said he had “more reach’’ than the National Rifle Association.

While he may not be as well known as other politically active billionaires such as the Koch Brothers, Michael Bloomberg, George Soros, or Sheldon Adelson, there are few bigger players in national politics today.

He is hoping to have an effect on Tuesday’s elections by increasing Democratic voter turnout during a midterm election when traditionally there has been a large dropoff of voters.

He has put together a large national organization designed to turn out voters. Monday night in Greensboro, he held the last of his 32 town halls in a meeting that drew 250 people, according his campaign staff.

Has he had an impact?

“We will know more in a week,” Steyer said. “But we have seen on an anecdotal basis in North Carolina, early voting has been very robust.”

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While in Raleigh Tuesday he planned to visit the local food bank and meet with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

In North Carolina, his organization has concentrated its efforts in turning out voters in the Charlotte-centric 9th Congressional District where Republican Mark Harris is facing Democrat Dan McCready; and in the Triad-based 13th district where Republican incumbent Ted Budd is being challenged by Democrat Kathy Manning.

They have 38 full- or part-time staffers helping organize the state and have been working on 25 college campuses, Steyer said. The organization claims it has registered 6,000 new voters in the state.

Steyer calls it “the largest youth voter mobilization in American history” – based on the staff, volunteers and budget.

“We are a grassroots organization trying to spread broader democracy in America so more people get to vote, so more people get included, so people can’t be ignored, so we get a fairer process,” he said. “That’s what we do.”

The town halls, Steyer said, were not about Trump-bashing, but focused discussions on issues that worry people – most prominently the cost of college, health care, racial justice, and the environment.

“Obviously this is a huge referendum on this administration,” Steyer said of next Tuesday’s election. “But I think it is much more than that … We don’t go on an anti-Trump screed. We talk to young people and ask them what they care about.”

While many Democrats welcome Steyer’s organizational heft, they have been wary of his campaign to impeach President Trump, fearful that it could backfire by revving up Republican voters.

Addelson, a Las Vegas casino owner and a major Trump backer, recently began running ads warning that a vote for a Democrat is a vote to impeach the president. Even Steyer’s representative in Congress, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, disagrees with him.

But Steyer views Trump as a danger to the Constitution and the country, and he has put together a team of 54 constitutional lawyers that have laid out 10 possible impeachable offenses that include obstruction of justice, accepting fees from foreign governments, advocating violence, and conspiring to commit crimes against the United States with Russia.

“He is a habitual and reckless lawbreaker who is putting the safety and health of the American people at risk,’’ Steyer said in an interview. “It is urgent to get him out of office before he destroys the country.”

Last week, Steyer’s group began running a Facebook ad comparing Trump with such dictators as Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, saying they have the same “malignant narcissism.”

“Dictators have managed to come to power in every part of the world, and many of them rise out of democracy,” says the ad’s narrator, first reported by The Daily Caller.

The Democratic prospects of actually pushing through impeachment are close to nil. Many observers think the Democrats have a chance to win the House, but few think they will win the Senate. It would likely require 57 Senate votes to impeach – a prospect that could only occur if a broad swath of Republicans abandoned a president whom polls suggest is highly popular among GOP voters.

But Steyer says that is no reason to back off. He said he has spent no time lobbying in Congress for impeachment or thinking about legislative strategy. This is about galvanizing public opinion, he said.

He knows that some Democrats think this is tactically not smart. “But we are saying, ‘no, no. We are standing up for the Constitution and the American people.”

Everywhere he goes, he is asked about whether he is interested in running for president in 2020. And his standard reply, which he gave again Tuesday, is that he won’t decide until after the midterm elections where he can do the most good.

But after watching Steyer on CNN Sunday, Trump had a prediction. “As bad as their field is,” the president tweeted, “if he was running for President, the Dems will eat him alive.”

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Christensen: 919-829-4532; @oldpolhack