Bay Area billionaire Tom Steyer on the campaign trail

Billionaire philanthropist turned politician Tom Steyer plans to campaign in the swing state of Ohio this week, with appearances in Cleveland and Columbus. 

The midwest visit follows Steyer's first campaign appearance in his hometown of San Francisco Wednesday night at Manny's Restaurant in the Mission District, just a week after he announced his campaign.

"The reason I'm running is we have a broken government. Corporate money has bought the democracy. The only solution to that is pushing power back to the people retaking the democracy and I've been doing that as an outsider for 10 years," said Steyer.

Steyer says being an outsider sets him apart from the other 24 Democratic candidates. After founding a private equity fund, Steyer turned to political activism on environmental issues and since 2016 has created the Need to Impeach group that collected more than 8 million signatures on a petition to impeach President Trump, as well as a NextGen grassroots activist organization to get young Americans registered to vote.

Steyer spent more than an hour on stage at Manny's Restaurant owner Manny Yekutiel, a friend of Steyer's son, answering his questions and taking questions from the audience. Steyer's wife and son also attended. 

Steyer says he believes the way to win the 2020 election is by changing the electorate and inspiring and mobilizing new people to vote instead of trying to win over undecided voters in the middle. Steyer says that Democrats will need to give people a new vision of what America represents.

"What we need now is a different narrative about who we are, and what we're trying to create, and how we're going to do it. That's actually the point here. It's not about this policy nuance or that policy nuance," said Steyer.

As for whether his wealth puts him out of touch with the struggles of most Americans, Steyer says in the past few years, he has traveled nationwide, talking with Americans and listening to the concerns of middle and lower income Americans.

On foreign policy, he says he has gained experience from being an international investor researching countries and corporations.

Steyer also said his background as an investor is not at odds with his agenda. 

"I understand the difference between democracy and capitalism. and I know they have to co-exist. I just don't want capitalism to take over the democracy and I think democracy should write the rules to control capitalism. That's the distinction," said Steyer.

Steyer doesn't need money. He has said he'll spend $100,000 of his own money on his campaign. What he does need are 130,000 donors so he can qualify for the fall primary debates. Steyer asked people to give him a dollar. 

After the event, some people said they are glad he's adding his voice to the race.

"I think Tom was casual, intense, and quite convincing," said Daniel Tondeau of Oakland. 

"I really liked that he named climate change and fixing the democracy and taking it back from corporate control as the top two issues." said Zachary Levine, a San Francisco voter.

"I haven't decided my vote for anyone yet, but I'm glad to see him there and I'm certainly going to give him a dollar," said Daisy Pistey-Lyhne of Santa Rosa.

Twenty Democrats have qualified for the next debates on July 30 and July 31st. Steyer will need to capture at least 2% of voters in the polls and have at least 130,000 donors to secure a spot on stage for the September debate.