Michael R. Bloomberg flew to Arkansas on Tuesday morning to personally file paperwork to become a presidential candidate in the state’s Democratic primary, sending a highly public signal about his strong interest in entering the 2020 race.
Mr. Bloomberg arrived in Little Rock, Ark., with a few aides, according to two people familiar with his activities. Arkansas is the second state in which he will be on the Democratic primary ballot, after qualifying to put his name on the ballot in Alabama last Friday. The two southern states both have early filing deadlines, even though they are not among the first primaries on the calendar.
“Mike wanted to go and do the filing himself,” said Jason Schechter, a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg. “If he runs, he’s going to go to states that Democrats never go to in the primary campaign. We’re starting that today in Arkansas.”
Mr. Bloomberg planned to have lunch at Sims BBQ with the mayor of Little Rock, Frank Scott Jr., during a brief visit to the city.
Mr. Bloomberg is considering a trip to North Carolina as soon as this week, two people briefed on his plans said. The state’s filing deadline is not imminent, but similar to Arkansas it is among the Super Tuesday contests in early March that Mr. Bloomberg would aim to contest aggressively as a candidate.
Michael John Gray, chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party, said he had spoken briefly with Mr. Bloomberg in Little Rock on Tuesday morning. He said Mr. Bloomberg had recalled visiting the city during his time as mayor, for the opening of Bill Clinton’s presidential library. Mr. Gray said there was “a lot of buzz” in the state capital about Mr. Bloomberg’s visit, since Arkansas has only attracted visits from a few candidates so far in this campaign.
“I thanked him for being there in Arkansas,” Mr. Gray said, suggesting Mr. Bloomberg could generate interest among voters beyond the traditional early-state circuit. “You do that by showing up in places where people don’t show up.”
On Tuesday afternoon, in his first Twitter post related to a potential candidacy, Mr. Bloomberg trumpeted his trip to Arkansas.
In a further sign that Mr. Bloomberg is likely to run, one of his longtime lieutenants informed the Pete Buttigieg campaign that he could no longer back the South Bend, Ind., mayor in a primary that included Mr. Bloomberg.
Bradley Tusk, Mr. Bloomberg’s former campaign manager in New York, hosted a fund-raiser for Mr. Buttigieg last month. But on Tuesday, Mr. Tusk said that while he still saw Mr. Buttigieg as an impressive candidate, circumstances had changed and he would be supporting Mr. Bloomberg in the presidential race.
Mr. Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and billionaire media executive, is expected to make a final decision within days on whether to proceed with a presidential campaign. People close to him believe his mind is all but made up and his advisers have been recruiting potential campaign staff at a furious pace since the end of last week.
But Mr. Bloomberg has not yet made any formal announcement and there is at least a chance he could back away from the campaign.
Mr. Bloomberg is one of several prominent Democrats weighing a late entry into the 2020 campaign. Most serious besides Mr. Bloomberg is former Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, who could jump into the race as soon as this week.
Mr. Patrick and his allies have been reaching out to Democrats in the early primary and caucus states, and Mr. Patrick spoke last week with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to tell him he was considering the race.
The former governor initially rejected making a White House bid last year, in part because his wife had received a cancer diagnosis, but she has been given a clean bill of health, according to Massachusetts Democrats.
Moreover, Mr. Patrick believes nobody in the race has shown the promise of being able to both unify the party and heal a deeply divided country after the election. Democrats who have spoken to him say he envisions a campaign similar to that of his longtime friend, former President Barack Obama, which would focus more on bringing people together than making a particular ideological case.
One adviser to Mr. Patrick noted that, when he first ran for governor in 2006, his signature vow was that he’d be “governor of the whole state” and that he’d make a similar pledge to a fractured country.
It is a reflection of the unsettled nature of the Democratic race that both men may join the primary fray so late. But Mr. Patrick and Mr. Bloomberg would likely approach the campaign very differently, starting with their activities this week.
If Mr. Patrick runs, he is likely to file to become a candidate in New Hampshire before the deadline for entry there on Friday. Mr. Bloomberg, however, has indicated he would skip all four of the early primary and caucus states in a presidential campaign, focusing instead on the so-called Super Tuesday primaries in March, and he may not even take the step of putting his name on the ballot in New Hampshire.