Capitol Alert

Who is Tom Steyer? Five things to know as he runs for president

Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer is a billionaire liberal activist who has led a national effort to impeach President Donald Trump. He has been gaining ground in early-voting states, helping him land a spot on the debate stage.

Here are five things you need to know about him as he campaigns across California and the rest of the country:

1. He plans to spend $100 million

When Steyer launched his bid for president in July, he announced he would put $100 million of his personal money into his campaign. This comes from his estimated net worth of $1.6 billion, which primarily came from his work creating a hedge fund.

Steyer has no idea how much of the $100 million has already been spent. He’s spent an estimated $30 million on television and digital advertisements.

“I have a very specific job in this campaign: My job is to try and talk to as many people as possible and explain what I stand for and who I am. That’s my job,” Steyer said. “All the questions you are asking me are for the campaign manager, which is not my job. You can ask me those questions, and every time, I’m going to say, ‘I don’t know.’”

2. He’s led an effort to impeach Trump

In October 2017, Steyer appeared on many television sets to call for Trump’s impeachment. Since then, 8.3 million Americans have signed a petition from Need to Impeach — an organization Steyer formed to press for impeachment.

Steyer did not mention impeachment in a video announcing his presidential bid.

“In terms of the election, this is not about impeachment,” Steyer said. “An election is about what does the future look like?”

But in June 2018, Steyer told The Sacramento Bee that removing Trump from office should be the nation’s top priority.

“It is the top issue because it touches on every single other thing,” he said at the time.

3. Steyer’s focusing on early states

While Steyer has held several events in California, he’s largely campaigned in states that vote early in the 2020 presidential primary. Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada are his primary focuses, and he’s polled as high as 4 percent in three of those states.

He insists there’s plenty of room for him to gain momentum, given he’s not well known.

“I think there’s an awful lot of people in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada who still don’t know who I am,” Steyer said. “But for the ones who do, I think I’m saying something different, have a very different history, who’s an outsider and someone who built a business from scratch. There’s nobody else on that stage who has the same profile that I do.”

He views Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate as an opportunity to reach millions of new voters.

“This campaign is completely in flux as far as I’m concerned,” he added. “I don’t know where it’s going. It’s completely in flux. There’s going to be a lot of surprises.”

4. He’s got plenty of California ties

Steyer lives in San Francisco and has even considered a senatorial bid against San Francisco native Dianne Feinstein. Steyer has supported a number of environmental policies in the state and has been a major donor to the state’s Democratic Party. In 2016, he wrote a $250,000 check to boost voter turnout.

5. Steyer changed his mind about running for president

In January, Steyer took the unusual step of going to Iowa only to announce he would not enter the 2020 presidential race. He thought other candidates would focus on government corruption and did not see a path for himself.

But after months of internal deliberation, he had a change of heart.

“I genuinely thought that there’d be so many people running that their whole situation would be covered,” Steyer said. “The reason I changed my mind was I felt as is no one was talking about the basic point in American politics, which is that the government is broken.”

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.