FRESNO, CALIFORNIA (REUTERS) - United States Democratic presidential contender Michael Bloomberg vowed on Monday (Feb 3) that he would not let President Donald Trump bully him and said the insults being lobbed at him are a sign Mr Trump is worried about running against the fellow New York business tycoon.
"I think he thinks I'm going to beat him," Mr Bloomberg told Reuters in an interview in Compton, California, where he was campaigning. "And we've tried to get under his skin."
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released last Thursday showed Mr Bloomberg, a billionaire and former mayor of New York, moving into third place among registered voters for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
He trails front runners Mr Joe Biden and Mr Bernie Sanders, who competed on Monday in Iowa's caucuses, the traditional kickoff to the presidential nominating contest.
Mr Bloomberg is taking an unorthodox approach focused instead on larger, delegate-rich states such as California that start voting in March.
The party's nominee will face Mr Trump in the November election.
Mr Trump told Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity in an interview that aired on Sunday that Mr Bloomberg, who stands about 1.73m tall, against the President's 1.91m, had requested a box to stand on during the Democratic debates.
The jab came after the Democratic National Committee (DNC) scrapped a rule last week requiring that candidates meet a threshold of grassroots donations, opening the door for Mr Bloomberg to participate in a Feb 19 debate in Nevada.
Mr Trump also has dismissed Mr Bloomberg as "mini Mike", while Mr Trump's son Donald Trump Jr continued the taunt about Mr Bloomberg's height at a rally in Iowa on Monday.
"Trump's insults just don't bother me," Mr Bloomberg told a campaign event at a community college in Fresno, California, on Monday.
"He's not going to bully me," he said. "I have never backed down from a bully or run away from a fight."
On Sunday, Mr Bloomberg's campaign denied it had requested a box and taunted the President's "fake hair, his obesity and his spray-on tan".
With campaign stops across California on Monday, Mr Bloomberg displayed his extremely well-funded campaign. Worth at least an estimated US$60 billion (S$82.3 billion), Mr Bloomberg is the only candidate with deep enough pockets to essentially start a general election campaign, while his 10 Democratic rivals focus on the four early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
California is the largest of the 14 states to vote on March 3, a date known as Super Tuesday, when nearly a third of the 3,979 state delegates who select the Democratic nominee will be up for grabs.
As of Monday, Mr Bloomberg had 220 full-time staff members in California, which will grow to 300 by the time the state votes, his campaign said. US Senator Sanders, who is believed to have the second-largest presence, has about 80 staff members in the state.
Many California voters said they were just getting to know Mr Bloomberg. "I came to see more about what his plans are," said Mr Jesse Gomez, 18, a student at the community college in Fresno, where Mr Bloomberg spoke on Monday.
Mr Gomez said his family was barely getting by on his father's Social Security cheque and he wanted to know how Mr Bloomberg would help families like his.