Video: Bloomberg for president?

updated 6/21/2007 12:02:21 PM ET 2007-06-21T16:02:21

WASHINGTON - Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) who has publicly flirted with his own independent presidential bid, smartly started courting Mayor Mike Bloomberg ($-NYC) several months ago, dining with him in Washington last month and touting the prospect of their joint ’08 ticket on national TV. If top-tier candidates (D/R) were smart, they’d invite Bloomberg out for a bite as well.

As Hagel knows, a Bloomberg candidacy, which sources say is directly tied to his decision to ditch his air-quote affiliation with the GOP and register as an independent, could drain key votes from every one of the major parties’ would-be nominees. His staggering wealth (estimated between $5.5 billion to $20 billion), his popularity in New York (recent polls give him an enviable 65-plus percent approval rating) and his ability to navigate the treacherous terrain of New York’s local/tabloid media would catapult him into serious contention on a national stage. More than any of the other three other pols still flirting with a White House bid (Hagel, Al Gore and Newt Gingrich), Bloomberg should be taken seriously.

“Michael Bloomberg is like a cruise missile, with almost unlimited fuel and a huge warhead, and you don’t know what his target is going to be,” GOP pollster Tony Farbrizio said Wednesday. “I can draw a scenario where he could be very damaging to Republican chances, or to the Democratic nominee. And I can draw a scenario where he’s going to be a net neutral.”

It all depends, of course, on what kind of candidate he'd be. “If he wants to be a small-government, less-spending, tough-on-government type, then he’ll draw more from Republicans. If he runs as an urban-agenda, social-issues, quality-of-life candidate, that’ll hurt Democrats,” Fabrizio said. “If he picks one from each column, it could be both.”

While Democrats overall have more to fear from his third-party presence in a general-election race, Bloomberg could pose perhaps the greatest challenge to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who has built his candidacy largely on claims that he appeals broadly to independent voters yearning for a “post-partisan” president. Recent polls bear this out; a new Cook/RT Strategies poll suggests that Obama owes his leads over Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson (and his tie with Rudy Giuliani) to a sizable chunk of independent voters, more than 40 percent of whom fall into his column. If he runs, Bloomberg would draw a large number of those voters from Obama, which would more than even the three-way playing field.

Ironically, however, a Bloomberg bid might also help Obama level out the potential for a racial bias against him, in a region where no Democrat has been competitive for a generation – the South. In red states from Florida to North Carolina, even Tennessee and Kentucky, polls show the Democratic base of African-American voters is more loyal to their party than white conservatives are to Republicans. Much depends on which candidate the GOP nominates, but Bloomberg could pull from the Republican column there, while Obama would likely hold most of his party’s base. Faced with the scenario of losing their lock on the South, however, look for the GOP to highlight Bloomberg’s support for two issues -- gun control and gay marriage.

John Edwards, meanwhile, has crafted a 2008 roadmap that relies heavily on courting his party's liberal, populist base. His Republican romp notwithstanding, Bloomberg has embraced stands on social issues like gay marriage, immigration, gun control and global warming that run to the left of Democratic candidates, including Edwards. Bloomberg, a former Democrat who only became a Republican in 2001 as a strategic ploy to win the New York mayoral race, could easily run as a liberal alternative to Edwards among voters who view him as a more authentic alternative to special interest-pandering Democrats.

More than any other Democrat running for president, Clinton needs to hold both her base and the political center. Roughly 40 percent of voters (admittedly, most of them in red states in the South and West she'd never dream of carrying) say they'll never support her candidacy. Her success depends greatly on her ability to draw from moderates and independents, many of whom could be attracted to Bloomberg.

Among Republicans, of course, the immediate and most obvious victim of Bloomberg’s would-be candidacy is, of course, Giuliani, whose status as GOP frontrunner has taken a series of new, unrelated hits just this week. (First, Newsday reported Giuliani quit the Iraq Study Group, at James Baker’s request, because he was too busy making big-bucks speeches. Next, President Bush tapped his Iowa director, Jim Nussle, as budget director. And finally, Giuliani's South Carolina chair, Thomas Ravenel, was busted on cocaine charges).

Contrary to the threat he poses to Democrats, Bloomberg's challenge to Giuliani begins in the GOP primary. The sitting New York mayor's mere presence on the national stage reinforces the reality that Giuliani is hardly the sole architect of New York's post-9/11 revival. No one is better suited to paint a picture of a city in disrepair, both before Sept. 11 and after, than Bloomberg.

Perhaps the most compelling scenario would be a three-way race that featured Bloomberg and Romney, whose sharp tack to the right this year would almost certainly be followed by a post-nomination lurch to the middle, in which he'll remind voters of his leadership in liberal Massachusetts and his work on health-care reform with (gasp!) Sen. Ted Kennedy. If Bloomberg has already staked a claim to the middle, with moderate positions on fiscal policies and some social issues, Romney could be left with a much smaller pool of potential support.

For McCain and Fred Thompson, Bloomberg's would-be threat depends entirely on how the Iraq war is perceived during next year's campaign. An early supporter-turned-opponent of the war who currently backs a phased troop withdrawal, Bloomberg could appeal to moderate Republicans and independents who appreciated his willingness to break with Bush, and his party, over the unpopular war. As he would in a race against Obama, however, Bloomberg threatens bids by McCain and Thompson for independent voters seeking post-partisan leadership.

Then again, the Bloomberg boomlet could be short-lived. Almost two-thirds of voters (65%) say they know who he is -- more than have heard of Romney (62%), Joe Biden (58%), Thompson (51%) or Bill Richardson (48%). Bloomberg’s visibility falls in the middle of the pack of presidential contenders – well below the current Democratic or GOP frontrunners, according to a new Pew Research Center survey released this week. But only 9% of voters who have heard of him say there’s a good chance they’d cast a ballot for him. Another 23% say there's some chance, but more than half of American voters (56%) say there’s no chance Bloomberg would get their vote.

Will he run? Sources say he’s doing everything to prepare for the prospect of doing so. Will he win? No. Will he have a potentially decisive impact on the race? Absolutely. Stay tuned.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.


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