He made it there. But will he make it everywhere?
Here's another NYC mayor who switched parties, but Lindsay never got close to making it to the White House.
Ross Perot won more votes than any other independent presidential candidate in history. His electoral vote total? Zero.
Twenty-three years ago today, the Idaho Republican gets bad news from the House ethics committee.
OK, so what does it mean?
I'm referring, of course, to the announcement by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg late Tuesday afternoon that he was leaving the Republican Party and becoming "unaffiliated." The move immediately fed speculation that Bloomberg's next step would be to mount an independent bid for president.
Such speculation is not totally without merit, though Bloomberg continues to insist he has no plans to run. He has long made it clear that he has real problems with the two major parties, complaining that Washington – regardless of who is in control – simply does not work.
The fact that Bloomberg is a Republican may startle some people. After all, he opposes the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's approach to the world, and he supports strict gun control, access to abortion and gay marriage. The fact is, he is the ultimate RINO – a "Republican In Name Only;" he became a Republican in 2001 only because he had no shot at the Democratic nomination for mayor.
But in a city with relatively few Republicans and even less of a visible Republican establishment, the multi-billionaire Bloomberg had an easy path to the GOP nomination. He won the enthusiastic backing of term-limited incumbent Rudy Giuliani and faced a weak primary opponent in Herman Badillo, who in an earlier incarnation was a liberal congressman from the Bronx.
Bloomberg became a popular mayor, continuing the success of Giuliani — but without the rancor and polarization. He easily won a second term in 2005; his 20-point victory was the best ever for a Republican in the Big Apple, toppling Fiorello La Guardia's record winning margin in 1937.
Giuliani' stewardship of the city during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, eventually made him a crowd favorite with Republicans nationwide; in contrast, Bloomberg has maintained his focus on the city. Lately, however, Bloomberg has hinted that his interests expand beyond the five boroughs. He has given speeches around the country, including one Monday at Google headquarters in California, which has recently become a must-visit stop for presidential candidates. He insists that the purpose of his visits is to keep the candidates' feet to the fire on issues such as illegal immigration, global warming, education and health care.
But Bloomberg's limitless bank account and potential appeal to the political middle remind some of another vertically challenged billionaire who ran for president as an independent, Ross Perot. (I'm tempted to say that unlike Perot, Bloomberg hails from Planet Earth. But the mayor has shown that he is surely capable of imperious behavior as well.)
Bloomberg spent at least $70 million of his own money on each of his mayoral campaigns; a presidential effort, should it come about, could approach $500 million. Columnist Robert Novak reported that a recent Bloomberg commencement speech at the University of Oklahoma was followed by a visit with university president David Boren, a former governor and senator, and the conversation allegedly was about 2008. Earlier speculation had Bloomberg teaming up with maverick GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel following their dinner last month in Washington. Those pushing for Bloomberg to mount an independent bid are encouraged by polls showing public disapproval of both President Bush and the Democratic Congress.
The inevitable question is: Whom does he help or hurt? In the short run, the guess is that Giuliani suffers the most. Were it not for Giuliani's effusive campaigning on his behalf, Bloomberg never would have made it to City Hall in 2001, with or without his millions. Giuliani was at the apex of his popularity in the weeks after Sept. 11, and that was good enough to push Bloomberg to victory. (Rudy's folks would no doubt see a Bloomberg candidacy as the ultimate stab in the back. The news also came on a day where Giuliani saw his top Iowa supporter, ex-Rep. Jim Nussle, become President Bush's new budget director.) In the long run, though, an independent Bloomberg candidacy could indeed hurt the Democratic nominee, whomever that may end up being, given that the two will likely share a position on most major issues.
For the record, the last NYC mayor to switch parties while in office was John Lindsay. Elected in 1965 as a Republican, Lindsay quickly fell out of favor with GOP voters and was defeated for renomination in the 1969 primary. Nonetheless, he won a second term that year, running as an Independent (and on the Liberal Party ballot line as well). Lindsay then left the GOP. His supporters wanted him to become a Democrat and run for president in 1972. The first part was easy; he switched to the Dems in August of 1971. He didn't, however, come close to fulfilling the second part.
Whether Bloomberg runs or not, I suspect a decision won't come before next February, when he gets to see the lay of the land and the probable nominees for both the Republicans and the Democrats. (And what if the presidential contest became a true Subway Series? Giuliani vs. Clinton vs. Bloomberg? More of that later in the column.)
Until then, it's worth a look back at significant independent or third-party presidential efforts of the past: