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WATCH: In Virginia, Bloomberg blasts Trump for Navy leader’s ouster

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — New presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg traveled to the city that hosts the world’s largest Navy base on Monday and blasted President Donald Trump over the recent ouster of the nation’s Navy secretary.

For the first stop of his Democratic campaign, Bloomberg went to Norfolk, where he criticized Trump over the firing of Richard Spencer. The civilian leader of the Navy said he could not in good conscience follow an order by the president to allow a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes to retire without losing his SEAL status.

“The fact remains: We have a president, a commander in chief, who has no respect for the rule of law, and no concern whatsoever for ethics or honor, or for the values that truly make America great,” Bloomberg told a group of reporters at a downtown hotel.

Virginia is a critical Super Tuesday state that is key to Bloomberg’s campaign strategy of bypassing early states to focus on the crush of states that vote later in the cycle. And the locale offered the billionaire and former mayor of New York City more than just the latest controversy in Washington to promote his platform.

The neighboring city of Virginia Beach suffered a mass shooting on May 31 that killed 12 people at a municipal complex. Bloomberg, 77, said that such shootings have become “almost routine” and that “we have to put an end to this madness.”

Gun control is a hallmark of Bloomberg’s political identity. His group, Everytown for Gun Safety, has pumped more than $6 million into Virginia campaigns alone in recent years to support like-minded Democrats, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

Democrats retook both chambers in Virginia’s Legislature earlier this month. Bloomberg said it was proof that “with the right candidate, we can turn areas from red to blue.”

Bloomberg, a centrist who became a Democrat last year, joined the presidential race Sunday, just 10 weeks before primary voting begins. His Democratic rivals have already pounced on his plans to rely on his personal fortunes to fund his campaign, accusing him of trying to buy an election.

Bloomberg said Trump was a “threat to our country, to our values and our national security.” But he also cast doubt on the crowded field of Democrats whose performance, he insinuated, forced him into the race.

“I think that there is a greater risk of having Donald Trump reelected than there was before,” Bloomberg told reporters. “And in the end, I looked in the mirror and said that I just cannot let this happen.”

The former Republican touted a platform that also focused on combating sea-level rise, economic inequality and health care.

He said he’s already beaten Trump in other arenas, at least symbolically, devoting tens of millions of dollars to pursue policy priorities that are in sharp contrast to the president’s.

For instance, Bloomberg has helped shutter 282 coal plants in the United States and organized a coalition of American cities on track to cut 75 million metric tons of carbon emissions by 2025.

“I know what it takes to beat Trump because we already have, and I will do it again,” Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg also chatted with people at a diner in downtown Norfolk that was mobbed with reporters and at least some people who were eager to support him.

Among them was Craig Schranz, 43, an emergency medicine physician who said he’s fiscally conservative and socially liberal like Bloomberg is. He praised Bloomberg for not “vilifying” capitalism and for supporting a health care plan that doesn’t eliminate private-payer health insurance.

“I think he’s someone who knows how to govern,” said Schranz, who said he had supported former Vice President Joe Biden before Bloomberg joined the race. “I think he’s going to implement sound policy that we need.”

Bloomberg plans to go to Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday.

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