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Bloomberg gathering data to gauge support

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has begun detailed polling and highly sophisticated voter analysis in all 50 states as he considers an independent bid for president, associates said Wednesday.
Image: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg listens during a bipartisan forum at the University of Oklahoma
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg listens during a bipartisan political forum at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., on Monday.John Gress / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has quietly been polling and conducting a highly sophisticated voter analysis in all 50 states as he decides whether to launch an independent presidential bid, associates said Wednesday.

The exhaustive data collection started months ago, and when the review begins shortly, it will provide the data-obsessed billionaire businessman with the information he will use to decide whether to make a third-party run for the White House.

The scope of the research, details of which were revealed to The Associated Press, demonstrates how seriously Bloomberg is considering running for president despite his almost daily denials that he isn't entering the race. The extensive coast-to-coast research effort shows that Bloomberg is willing to dig deep into his wallet simply to gauge his chances of winning and lining up the proper support network.

"They want a hard-headed sense of their chances," said Doug Schoen, who spearheaded Bloomberg's voter database efforts, known as microtargeting, for his two mayoral campaigns.

Bloomberg's spokesman Stu Loeser declined to comment.

Schoen says he is not working for Bloomberg now, but he is part of the mayor's inner circle and makes a convincing and well-researched case in his new book, "Declaring Independence," about how a third-party candidate such as Bloomberg could run for president and upset the election this year.

Schoen was widely recognized for his microtargeting work in Bloomberg's first campaign. It was considered a groundbreaking concept in 2001 to gather and use information on individual voters, rather than voting blocs, to tailor and tweak the campaign message, advertisements and overall theme.

The Bloomberg database being created nationally would also be used in those same ways if he were to run, Schoen said. But for now, it will serve as the basis of gauging potential support for a bid.

Data-based pictures of individuals
Using the microtargeting model, research firms working for Bloomberg are gathering comprehensive information on voters throughout the country, such has who owns a home, has children in college, where they vacation, type of car or computer and past political support. All the puzzle pieces will then be arranged to create a picture of each individual.

Most of the data already exists in commercial databases that the multibillionaire Bloomberg can simply purchase. It will then be analyzed to determine how each voter fits into several categories: "strong supporter," "persuadable supporter" or "potential volunteer."

Bloomberg's public denials of any interest in running are getting weaker; he typically says only that he is "not a candidate."

On Monday, he participated in a bipartisan summit in Oklahoma that only fueled speculation about his interest in seeking the presidency.

William Cunningham, who worked on Bloomberg's mayoral campaigns and was communications director during his first term, said it makes sense that Bloomberg — who founded the financial information company Bloomberg LP — would gather voter information in this way.

"The mayor has both built a business and managed the city by using data and analyzing it, so it would seem to me that any other venture he gets involved in, he'd be analyzing and collecting data," he said.

For Bloomberg's campaigns in 2001 and 2005, he spent more than $155 million, and in both cases, poured millions into the development of his voter database.

The work that Schoen did in 2001 came as Republicans were also developing a similar concept, known nationally during the 2004 presidential election as "Voter Vault."

Now, mictrotargeting has now become a crucial tool for political campaigns.

The obstacles to a third-party victory are enormous, but Schoen argues they are not insurmountable.

Previous independent bids such as those by George Wallace, John Anderson and H. Ross Perot faced problems of money, organization and ballot access that someone like Bloomberg could more easily overcome.

Estimated worth: $11.5 billion or more
The 65-year-old mayor already has the money — Fortune magazine estimates his worth in the neighborhood of $11.5 billion, and others have speculated it could be double that.

Next comes organization, and Bloomberg operatives believe they could recruit a million volunteers within a month of launching a campaign, aided by information gleaned from the voter database.

A major task for the volunteer force would be doing the groundwork to get him on the ballot — a tricky process that differs wildly by state.

The first deadline to get on a state ballot is May 12 in Texas, and petitioners can only begin collecting signatures after the state's March 4 major party primary.

So far, the surprise outcomes of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary have added urgency and strength to the Bloomberg operation, Schoen said.

"The uncertainty in the nominating process on both sides makes it more likely that Mike Bloomberg will explore a candidacy," he said.