New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg left the Republican Party yesterday, switching his party status from Republican to unaffiliated. The move increased speculation that Bloomberg plans an independent bid for President in 2008.
Bloomberg has never been one to let a party label get in the way of ambition. In 2001, billionaire former CEO made a similar switch when he first ran for mayor, defecting to the GOP to avoid a crowded Democratic primary. In announcing his latest switch, he said the change in voter registration does not mean he is running for president.
“Although my plans for the future haven’t changed, I believe this brings my affiliation into alignment with how I have led and will continue to lead our city,” he said in a statement. In the past Bloomberg has maintained that he would leave public office at the end of his second term as New York mayor in 2009.
Ross Perot’s campaign in 1992 showed how far a man can go if willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars of his own money. Perot pulled 19% of the vote that year despite having no political experience and being considered a nut by a huge number of Americans. Bloomberg has run the largest city in the country and is no nut.
Bloomberg, who founded the Bloomberg LP financial news service, has an estimated worth of more than $5 billion and, much like Texas businessman Ross Perot in 1992, could easily finance a White House run out of his own pocket. Bloomberg spent more than $155 million for his two mayoral campaigns.
The 65-year-old mayor has increasingly traveled out of state, including New Hampshire last weekend, and made the announcement of his party switch in California. Bloomberg has also been speaking more on national issues and has repeatedly criticized the partisan politics that have for years caused gridlock in Washington.
“The politics of partisanship and the resulting inaction and excuses have paralyzed decision-making, primarily at the federal level, and the big issues of the day are not being addressed, leaving our future in jeopardy,” he said in a speech Monday at the start of a University of Southern California conference about the advantages of nonpartisan governing.
Analysts are already debating the impact of an independent run by Bloomberg, with opinion split as to the effect he would have on the race to succeed President Bush. Some believe that Bloomberg’s moderate positions would pull votes from the Democratic nominee.
“If he runs, this guarantees a Republican will be the next president of the United States. The Democrats have to be shaking in their boots,” Greg Strimple, a Republican strategist in New York, told the AP.
Others see it differently.
Former Democratic Party Chairman Donald Fowler said Bloomberg would be “a disturbing factor to both parties,” but the mayor would probably draw more Republican votes simply because “Republicans are more disenchanted than Democrats.”
“Democrats are pretty happy with their candidates,” Fowler said. “The Republicans are absolutely in disarray.”
In the end, both views may be right. Bloomberg could pull votes from both sides, as well as a huge amount of the Independent vote that makes up more than half the electorate these days. It will still be nearly impossible for him to get the 270 electoral votes needed to win, but as close as recent presidential elections have been, if he wins just one or two states it could be enough to throw the decision to the House of Representatives. Unlikely, but fun to think about.
Strategists say he could mount a third-party campaign by stressing that he is a two-term mayor in a Democratic city and that he built his reputation as a political independent, social moderate and fiscal conservative. He supports gay marriage, abortion rights, gun control and stem cell research, and raised property taxes to help solve a fiscal crisis after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Asked about a hypothetical independent candidate entering the race, Bloomberg criticized both the Bush administration and Congress.
“I think the country is in trouble,” Bloomberg said, citing the war in Iraq and America’s declining standing globally.
“Our reputation has been hurt very badly in the last few years,” he said. “We’ve had a go-it-alone mentality in a world where, because of communications and transportation, you should be going exactly in the other direction.”
If nothing else, it should make the race even more interesting.