Bloomberg Leading Third-Party Charge?


New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is at the epicenter of what could be a third-party earthquake in 2008.

Speculation has grown in recent days that the globe-trotting mayor is maneuvering to position himself for a third-party presidential bid. Bloomberg, according to some analysts, could benefit from the high negatives that continue to plague Sen. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, and from widespread unhappiness among many Republicans about all of their party’s prospective nominees.

“I have a gut feeling there is a very high level of dissatisfaction among voters about the choices they are likely to have,” said Gilbert Kahn, a Kean University political scientist. “You see that frustration among solid Democrats and solid Republicans who don’t like their parties’ choices.”

Bloomberg could be the beneficiary, he said — although he added that “third-party candidates, in general, have never really been viable” in American politics.

Bloomberg has the money to mount a genuinely national campaign, Kahn said, and he has a political personality that might be just right for the current national mood.

In the Jewish community, the mayor could pick off some Jewish swing voters if former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, expected to draw the biggest Jewish vote among the GOP contenders, is not the nominee. And he could pick off other swing voters who don’t like Clinton.

Bloomberg may be setting the stage for a high-powered third-party run with his international travels and a new “style of engagement, even on local issues, like mass transit, that reflects an effort to project himself onto a bigger stage,” Kahn said. “And he is effectively grabbing sound bites across the country.”

But that’s not the only third-party scenario on the horizon. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) figure into another. If McCain loses the GOP nomination, the theory goes, he could join with Lieberman for a “Unity08” Independent ticket.

Indeed, some Joe watchers say hope for such an Independent ticket may have been a major factor in his endorsement of McCain last week.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) isn’t likely to win any Republican primaries, but his unexpected fundraising prowess, his mastery of the Internet and his army of young activists could provide the base for another presidential bid as a libertarian, said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato.

Few observers think the 73-year-old political eccentric is just going to fold up and go home if he loses the GOP nomination.

And don’t forget the Green Party, 2000’s great spoiler. A number of candidates are running for that party’s nomination, including former Rep. Cynthia McKinney, a onetime Georgia Democrat who came under fire from Jewish groups for her harsh positions on Israel.

The Greens could benefit from lingering unhappiness on the left with Clinton’s vote for and prior support of the Iraq war.

In 2008 “we may have an embarrassment of riches with respect to third parties,” Sabato said. But that will affect the outcome next November only if the margins are razor thin.

“In a very close race, any one of them could be a spoiler,” he said. “But if the race isn’t particularly close, the whole bunch of them won’t matter.”

The possible exception may be Bloomberg — who would bring an assertive personality, experience running the nation’s biggest city and mega-money into the third-party effort.