Bloomberg News: A 'Subway Series' for President?

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He made it there. But will he make it everywhere? hide caption

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Here's another NYC mayor who switched parties, but Lindsay never got close to making it to the White

Here's another NYC mayor who switched parties, but Lindsay never got close to making it to the White House. hide caption

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Ross Perot won more votes than any other independent presidential candidate in history. His electoral vote total? Zero. hide caption

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Twenty-three years ago today, the Idaho Republican gets bad news from the House ethics committee. hide caption

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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:

1912 Theodore Roosevelt (Progressive)
votes/percent: 4.1 million (27.4%)
electoral votes: 88
states carried: 6 (CA, MI, MN, PA, SD, WA)

1924 Robert La Follette (Progressive)
votes/percent: 4.8 million (16.6%)
electoral votes: 13
states carried: 1 (WI)

1948 Strom Thurmond (States' Rights Democrat)
votes/percent: 1.1 million (2.4%)
electoral votes: 39
states carried: 4 (AL, LA, MS, SC)

Henry Wallace (Progressive)
votes/percent: 1.1 million (2.4%)
electoral votes: 0
states carried: 0

1968 George Wallace (American Independent)
votes/percent: 9.9 million (13.5%)
electoral votes: 46
states carried: 5 (AL, AR, GA, LA, MS)

1980 John Anderson (Independent)
votes/percent: 5.7 million (6.6%)
electoral votes: 0
states carried: 0

1992 Ross Perot (Independent)
votes/percent: 19.7 million (18.9%)
electoral votes: 0
states carried: 0

1996 Ross Perot (Reform)
votes/percent: 8.1 million (8.4%)
electoral votes 0
states carried: 0

2000 Ralph Nader (Green)
votes/percent: 2.8 million (2.7%)
electoral votes: 0
states carried: 0

Here's a question from someone who also was wondering about the Subway Series:

Q: With Bloomberg switching his party affiliation and talk of him possibly running for president as an independent, it is completely feasible that the three major candidates could come from one state: Clinton, Giuliani and Bloomberg all hailing from New York. I know there's a long time to go before that can happen, but has there ever been a case where THREE major candidates for president came from the same state? The most I can come up with is two: 1904 saw New Yorkers Teddy Roosevelt (R) and Alton Parker (D), and 1992 saw Texans George H.W. Bush (R) and Ross Perot (Independent). – Tommy Druen, Georgetown, Ky.

A: Well, while the senior Bush certainly hailed from Texas, he was born in Massachusetts. So you could, for argument's sake, say that the 1988 race had two Massachusetts candidates, Bush and Michael Dukakis. But no, I can think of no presidential race in history in which three major candidates all hailed from the same state.

There are many examples where at least two candidates competing in the same presidential election hailed from the same state, if you include minor parties. The 1980 Libertarian candidate for president, Ed Clark, was also born in Massachusetts. But by 1980, he was a Californian – as was another candidate in that race, Ronald Reagan (born in Illinois). John Schmitz, the 1972 American Party candidate for president, was born in Milwaukee, but he went on to represent California in the state legislature and Congress. Another Californian running that year was Richard Nixon.

Of course, 1944 was an example where the two major party candidates – Franklin Roosevelt and Thomas Dewey – both hailed from the same state. Four years earlier, GOP nominee Wendell Willkie, a New Yorker at the time of his candidacy, also ran against Roosevelt.

Q: I am a student in the fifth grade and I want to know who will be running for president next year. – C. Dennis, Los Angeles, Calif.

A: I assume you want to know who the Democratic and Republican nominees will be. While there's plenty of time for candidates in both parties to make their moves, if I had to venture a guess at this early date – and don't hold me to this – I would say they will be Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York (D) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R).

In other political news ...

SPECIAL ELECTION IN GEORGIA 10: As expected, state Sen. Jim Whitehead (R) was the leading vote-getter but did not obtain the required 50 percent to avoid a July 17 runoff. Whitehead, who got 44 percent of the vote, now waits to see if his opponent in the runoff will be fellow Republican Paul Broun, a physician, or Democratic businessman James Marlow; at last count Broun led Marlow by 115 votes. This race is to fill the seat left vacant by the February death of Rep. Charlie Norwood, a Republican.

WYOMING UPDATE: Thirty five Republicans put their names forward to be considered by the Wyoming GOP as successors to Sen. Craig Thomas (R), who died earlier this month. This week the party, as required by law, narrowed the list to three. The list – comprised of Tom Sansonetti, who was Thomas' former chief of staff; state Sen. John Barrasso; and ex-state Treasurer Cynthia Lummis – will now go to Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D), who has five days to make his choice. Whomever he picks will have to run in a special election next year to fill the remaining four years of Thomas' term. (Worth noting is that two widely mentioned GOP names, Colin Simpson – son of ex-Sen. Al – and U.S. Attorney Matt Mead failed to make the final list.)

WE'RE ON THE AIR: If cluttering your e-mail inbox with this column wasn't bad enough, you should know that Talk of the Nation, NPR's live call-in program, features the "Political Junkie" segment every Wednesday at 2:40 p.m. Eastern time for 20 minutes. And if your local NPR station doesn't carry TOTN, you can still hear it on the Web. This week's show: Mayor Bloomberg leaves the GOP.

IT'S ALL POLITICS: That's the name of our weekly political podcast. It's hosted each week by NPR's Ron Elving and myself, and it goes up on the site Thursday afternoons.

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please don't forget to include your city and state. *********

This Day in Political History: The House Ethics Committee recommends that Rep. George Hansen (R-Idaho) be reprimanded by the full House, following his conviction for filing false financial statements (June 20, 1984). Hansen will be defeated for re-election in November by 170 votes.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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