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Bloomberg Would Take From Democrats

By Jack Kelly

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg denied again Monday that he's planning to run for president, but a lot of people don't believe him. "Bloomberg, according to New York insiders, has been meeting with both Republican and Democrat political consultants, pollsters and media advisers," reported the American Spectator's "Prowler" Monday. "He's told people privately that he'd be willing to spend $500 million or more to finance an independent, third party campaign," said Time magazine's James Carney.

The latest round of Bloomberg speculation was triggered Sunday by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb). In an appearance on one of the Sunday talk shows that are for him what oxygen is for normal people (CBS' Face the Nation), Sen. Hagel said he'd be willing (make that pathetically eager) to run with Mayor Bloomberg on a third party ticket. No third party candidate has come close to winning since Teddy Roosevelt in 1912. But no third party candidate has had anything approaching the resources Mayor Bloomberg is said to be willing to devote to a campaign. Mr. Bloomberg has a fortune estimated at more than $5 billion, so $500 million would be pocket change for him.

I don't think Mr. Bloomberg will run. You don't get to be a billionaire by throwing money away. But it's fun to speculate.

Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860 with just 39.8 percent of the popular vote, because there were four major candidates that year. A similar splintering in 2008 would make it not entirely unreasonable for Mayor Bloomberg to imagine he could win. But it's far more likely that a Bloomberg candidacy would tilt the race toward one of the major party candidates. Since Mayor Bloomberg is nominally a Republican, most in the news media
suppose his candidacy would hurt the GOP.

"Republicans are generally convinced that Ross Perot took a disproportionate share of his 20 percent of the vote in 1992 out of the hide of the incumbent Republican president, George Bush, thereby insuring Bill Clinton's victory," Mr. Carney wrote. "Some are worried that a Bloomberg candidacy in 2008 would do the same thing." I think a better precedent might be 1980, when Ronald Reagan won a landslide in the electoral college with just 50.7 percent of the popular vote, because independent candidate John Anderson took 6.6 percent of the vote. Though Rep. Anderson was nominally a Republican, most of his votes came out of the hide of President Carter.

I dislike the acronym RINO (Republican in name only) because those who throw it around are arrogant to presume they have the right to determine who is, or isn't, a Republican. But in Michael Bloomberg's case the acronym is apt, since he changed his registration from Democrat to Republican solely to avoid the Democratic primary for mayor. Aside from the economic good sense that made it possible for him to become a billionaire, Mr. Bloomberg is a fairly conventional liberal, especially on social issues.

Mayor Bloomberg has, however, described the plan of Democrats in Congress to impose a timetable for withdrawal of troops from Iraq as "irresponsible." Since Sen. Hagel voted for that timetable, if the two join together, it would be motivated more by ambition than by principle. Aside from his apostasy on the war, Sen. Hagel has been a fairly
conventional Republican. He has an 85 percent lifetime voting record on the index maintained by the American Conservative Union. A more natural pairing for Mayor Bloomberg might be with his friend Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who was pitched out of the Democratic party because of his support for the war in Iraq.

In either case, an independent candidacy headed by Michael Bloomberg figures to be a candidacy of the center-left, of liberals who are not completely crazy. It figures to draw more votes from disgusted Democrats than from disgruntled Republicans, despite Mr. Bloomberg's party registration.

Who a Bloomberg candidacy would help or hurt depends a lot on who the Republicans and Democrats nominate. If Rudy Giuliani wins the GOP nod, Mr. Bloomberg would have little appeal to moderate Republicans -- and little justification for running. But if the Republicans nominate Mr. Giuliani, it could trigger a fourth party bid by someone on the far right like Pat Buchanan, running on a pro-life, anti-immigrant platform.

Also fascinating is the effect a Bloomberg candidacy might have on Al Gore. The former vice president is said to believe he cannot defeat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. But with Mayor Bloomberg in the race, and perhaps a Pat Buchanan type as well, he might reasonably conclude he could win the whole shebang as the nominee of the Green Party.

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