Bil­lion­aire Bloomberg poised for third-party cam­paign

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Ralph Z. Hallow

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is pre­pared to spend an un­prece­dented $1 bil­lion of his own $5.5 bil­lion per­sonal for­tune for a third-party pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, per­sonal friends of the mayor tell The Wash­ing­ton Times.

“He has set aside $1 bil­lion to go for it,” con­fided a long-time busi­ness ad­viser to the Repub­li­can mayor. “The think­ing about where it will come from and do we have it is over, and the an­swer is yes, we can do it.”

An­other per­sonal friend and fel­low Repub­li­can said in re­cent days that Mr. Bloomberg, who is a so­cial lib­eral and fis­cal con­ser­va­tive, has “low­ered the bar” and upped the ante for a fi­nal de­ci­sion on mak­ing a run.

The mayor has told close as­so­ciates he will make a third-party run if he thinks he can in­flu­ence the na­tional de­bate and has said he will spend up to $1 bil­lion. Ear­lier, he told friends he would make a run only if he thought he could win a plu­ral­ity in a three­way race and would spend $500 mil­lion — or less than 10 per­cent of his per­sonal for­tune.

A $1 bil­lion cam­paign bud­get would wipe out many of the com­mon ob­sta­cles faced by third­party can­di­dates seek­ing the White House.

“Bloomberg is H. Ross Perot on steroids,” said for­mer Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion Chair­man Michael Toner. “He could turn the po­lit­i­cal land­scape of this elec­tion up­side down, spend as much money as he wanted and pro­ceed di­rectly to the gen­eral elec­tion. He would have re­sources to hire an army of pe­ti­tion-gath­er­ers in those states where thou­sands of pe­ti­tions are re­quired to qual­ify a third-party pres­i­den­tial can­di­date to be on the bal­lot.”

Se­nior Repub­li­can of­fi­cials — in­clud­ing those sup­port­ing de­clared Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion con­tenders — and sev­eral top Democrats told The Times they take the pos­si­bil­ity of a Bloomberg can­di­dacy as a se­ri­ous threat in Novem­ber 2008.

The Bloomberg team is study­ing the strate­gies of Mr. Perot, the Texas bil­lion­aire whose 1992 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign helped Pres­i­dent Clin­ton to win the White House with 43 per­cent of the pop­u­lar vote.

“Mike has been meet­ing with Ross Perot’s most se­nior peo­ple about how they did an in­de­pen­dent run in 1992,” the Bloomberg busi­ness ad­viser said on con­di­tion of anonymity so as to avoid ap­pear­ing to speak for Mr. Bloomberg.

Talk of Mr. Bloomberg as a third-party can­di­date comes as Repub­li­can vot­ers are deeply di­vided over their top-three de­clared can­di­dates — Ari­zona Sen. John McCain, for­mer New York Mayor Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani and for­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney — and are cast­ing long­ing glances at for­mer Ten­nessee Sen. Fred Thompson and for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich.

“Some of the peo­ple on McCain’s [pres­i­den­tial cam­paign] staff have been call­ing me to see if Mike is run­ning be­cause they are ready to leave the McCain cam­paign, which is a bi­plane on fire and spi­ral­ing down,” the Bloomberg ad­viser said.

Ne­braska Sen. Chuck Hagel, an­other in­de­pen­dent-minded Repub­li­can, dined re­cently with Mr. Bloomberg and sug­gested on CBS’ “Face the Na­tion” over the May 12-13 week­end that he and Mr. Bloomberg might make an in­de­pen­dent run for the pres­i­dency.

But in Albany, N.Y., on May 14, Mr. Bloomberg down­played that sug­ges­tion.

“I think he was prob­a­bly jok­ing,” the mayor told re­porters. Mr. Hagel “speaks his mind. [. . . ] He’s not happy with the same things that I’m not happy about.”

Repub­li­cans who say they are gird­ing for a Bloomberg en­try note Mr. Bloomberg has a 68 per­cent share of his pri­vately owned com­pany, Bloomberg LP. The com­pany is worth $20 bil­lion (and about $30 bil­lion if put on the block for pub­lic bid­ding) and earns $1.5 bil­lion an­nu­ally in af­ter-tax prof­its.

“If Bloomberg runs, he could have more money on hand than ei­ther of the two ma­jor party nom­i­nees,” said Mr. Toner, the for­mer FEC chair­man. “It would be the first time that hap­pened in the mod­ern era.”

A New York Daily News poll of the city’s vot­ers finds that Mr. Bloomberg, twice elected mayor as a mod­er­ate Repub­li­can, is far more pop­u­lar than Mr. Gi­u­liani, the for­mer mayor who leads in most polls for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion.

Mr. Bloomberg said he was flat­tered by that re­sult but down­played it at his Albany press con­fer­ence, say­ing, “The cur­rent mayor al­ways has a real ad­van­tage.”

So­cial con­ser­va­tive lead­ers have told The Times they are de­ter­mined to block Mr. Gi­u­liani from be­com­ing the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date but that they can’t stop Mr. Bloomberg from mak­ing a third-party run.

“This much I know, if Gi­u­liani gets the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion, that is the ticket for the Democrats to get the White House in 2008,” said Tony Perkins, pres­i­dent of the so­cially con­ser­va­tive Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil. “Many pro-life vot­ers who have been vot­ing Repub­li­can will not vote for the top of the ticket if it’s Gi­u­liani.”

Other top so­cial and re­li­gious con­ser­va­tive lead­ers, in sep­a­rate in­ter­views and dis­cus­sions, told The Times their move­ment has de­cided to sup­port Mr. Thompson for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion. They said he has sat­is­fied them that he is re­li­ably sup­port­ive of re­li­gious-con­ser­va­tive po­si­tions on key is­sues.

“A third-party can­di­dacy is al­most in­evitable” in 2008, said for­mer Vir­ginia Demo­cratic Party Chair­man Paul Gold­man, who pointed out that third-party can­di­da­cies have af­fected the out­come of five of the past 10 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions — in­clud­ing Ge­orge Wal­lace in 1968, John An­der­son in 1980, Mr. Perot in 1992 and ’96, and Green Party can­di­date Ralph Nader in 2000.

“If the Repub­li­cans nom­i­nate some­one the press can tag as a prowar so­cial con­ser­va­tive and the Democrats pick an anti-war lib­eral, Bloomberg will run up the cen­ter,” Mr. Gold­man said. “If con­ser­va­tives don’t rally to stop Gi­u­liani they will get a third party so­cially con­ser­va­tive can­di­date who will only help elect the Demo­crat.”

Getty Images

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has met with some of Ross Perot’s peo­ple on mak­ing an in­de­pen­dent run.

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