While Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton wrestle and the four Republican candidates face one another, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s shadow increasingly falls over their playing field. Armed with as much money as he could possibly need to run, this Democrat-turned-Republican could throw the entire race into chaos.
Bloomberg can wait and watch the primaries unfold before making his move. A byproduct of the front loading of the primaries in both parties is that the nominees will probably be chosen with plenty of time for a third party candidate to enter the field. The New York City mayor could either get himself nominated by the Green Party, formerly the vehicle for gadfly Ralph Nader, or set up his own party by petition in the 50 states. His massive financial resources make it possible for him to wait until early Spring before he has to begin collecting signatures if he goes the petition route.
The increasingly bitter nominating contests in both parties seem likely to offer an ample supply of disgruntled voters from whom Bloomberg could draw. Hillary and Obama are girding for a take-no-prisoners battle and the Republican fight seems likely to get equally acrimonious.
But a third party candidacy must gain its traction and impetus from discontent with the other two candidates. It is only frustration with the outcome of the Democratic and Republican nominating processes that would make a Bloomberg candidacy attractive.
Beyond the obvious difficulty Bloomberg would have running against Giuliani, both McCain and Obama would seem to pose obstacles to a viable third party candidacy. Political androgynous candidates, they draw well among both Democrats and Republicans and, so far, seem to alienate relatively few voters. Obama’s charisma has set much of the country ablaze and he appears to have done so without making a lot of enemies.
Boomberg's drawback — inexperience — is not likely to enflame enough voters to power a third party. John McCain may not win the Republican nomination precisely because his ideology and record is so appealing to those outside his party. He is the Democratic Party’s favorite Republican. If he wins the nomination, he can probably count on sufficient popularity on both sides of the race to make a Bloomberg candidacy problematic.
But if Hillary wins the Democratic nomination and either Huckabee or Romney gets the Republican nod, it is easy to see Bloomberg emerging as a very strong alternative. Hillary has a unique ability to make enemies and to polarize the electorate. If she wins the Democratic nomination, tens of millions of Democrats and Independents will want to look elsewhere in the general election. If she wins after a bitter fight with Obama, she might well alienate enough African American voters to make a third party candidacy successful, particularly with Bloomberg’s excellent record in attracting minority support in New York City.
If Huckabee is nominated by the Republicans, he may not be able to escape the evangelical ghetto and might have limited appeal to mainstream voters. Romney would also leave a lot of voters cold if he were to be nominated. The limited national security credentials of both Republicans might also open the door to Bloomberg, who has had extensive experience in fighting terrorism in New York City.
So Bloomberg needs to wait and watch as the other parties choose their nominees. If Hillary is the Democrat and either Huckabee or Romney wins the Republican nomination, he will find enough running room to make it worthwhile to take the shot.
Who would he help and hurt? He’d probably help Hillary more than the Republicans, although he’d draw votes from both parties. But, above all, he would help himself. Bloomberg could win. His money combined with his political savvy acquired facing the second toughest press corps in the nation might make it possible for him to pull it off if the other parties nominate the right people.