WASHINGTON — Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel's (R) recent remark on CBS' "Face the Nation" that he would consider running on an independent presidential ticket with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) is intriguing because they complement each other so well.
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Bloomberg offers up the executive experience that voters tend to prefer for president. Also, keep in mind that the last two sitting members of Congress elected president were John Kennedy and Warren Harding. Hagel has foreign policy and military experience, punctuated by an impressive record as a combat (and seriously wounded) infantryman in Vietnam.
Think Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., minus any apparent controversial testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. While Bloomberg has no Washington experience, Hagel certainly does, having served as both a top aide to a House member and as a two-term senator.
Oh, then there's the money.
Lack of funding and an organizational base is what prevents third-party efforts. But estimates of Bloomberg's net worth range from $7 billion to $13 billion, and friends say he could easily drop a billion on a presidential campaign without missing it too much.
Based on an hour-long meeting with Bloomberg at Gracie Mansion three weeks ago and a 15-minute telephone conversation a few weeks prior, I'd say that he looks at his record of building and managing his estimated $20 billion company, Bloomberg L.P., and his record as mayor of New York and is intrigued by the thought of running.
Not to mention, he does not seem to be dissuaded by the others already running.
But while the lifelong Democrat who converted to the GOP to win the Republican mayoral nomination -- it's unlikely he could have won a Democratic nomination at the time -- seems genuinely interested, even fascinated, by running, he hardly seems blinded by ambition. He's very smart, impressive and pragmatic.
When Bloomberg ticks off his accomplishments as mayor, his record is impressive. Who knew that of cities with a population over 100,000, New York City is 17th from the lowest in per capita murders? Negotiations with the city's public employee unions have resulted in contracts that cut out numerous inefficiencies while putting more money in teacher's pockets. For example, by eliminating the need to hire lunchroom monitors, teachers could be paid extra to do that job during their lunch breaks instead. He leaves the impression of a shrewd problem solver.
The week of our initial telephone conversation, Bloomberg marked the point of having 1,000 days remaining in his second term as mayor by making a novel request of his department heads. In effect, Bloomberg told them to imagine they were about to leave office and to prepare transition reports for their successors, outlining the problems that they would inherit. Then he told them to analyze the reports and figure out which problems can realistically be solved over the next 1,000 days.
Bloomberg has very high approval ratings, but said that if he left office with similar high marks, it would mean he hadn't tried to do enough and had left unspent political capital on the table.
When the conversation turned to 2008, Bloomberg played his own devil's advocate and spent as much time arguing against his chances of winning. An obvious challenge is that the winner is determined by the electoral, not popular, vote. If no candidate receives a majority of the electoral vote, the election would be thrown into the House.
Most believe it would be exceedingly unlikely that the House would elect an independent president. That being the case, an independent would most likely need to win from 38 percent to 40 percent in a three-way race to reach the tipping point, winning a sufficiently large number of states by small margins.
The intriguing question would be: Who would constitute the vote for a Bloomberg-Hagel ticket? Who would they pull from?
Bloomberg is liberal on basically all of the major social and cultural issues, but loves the business side: managing, solving problems and negotiating deals. Independents, moderate Democrats and secular Republicans would be ripe targets for such an effort.
But would such a ticket pull more from the Democratic or Republican side?
Initial polling suggests that Bloomberg could make a respectable run as an independent and pull evenly from the two major parties. But getting from respectable to upwards of 40 percent would require cutting into the marrow of at least one, if not both, parties.
This would mean that his candidacy would likely be contingent upon each party nominating either badly flawed or damaged candidates. After all, with his money, Bloomberg wouldn't need to decide until late February, after the nominations are likely to be determined.
The most interesting scenario would be if Bloomberg were to win a plurality of the electoral votes and siphon off enough votes from the left to push the Democratic nominee into third place. Could a Democratic House really pick a third-place finisher to be president, or might they opt for a politically compatible independent who finished first?
Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.