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NEAL CONAN, host:

And right now, Ken Rudin is here with another edition of the Political Junkie.

(Soundbite of excerpts from speeches of past U.S. presidents)

President RONALD REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

President JOHN F. KENNEDY: Ich bin ein Berliner.

Mr. LLOYD BENTSEN (Former Senator, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider…

Governor HOWARD DEAN (Democrat, Vermont): Byaaah.

And Ken, we thought this might be a slew junkie week, and then Michael Bloomberg made one announcement yesterday, New York's other mayor, and his marriage of convenience with the Republican Party, which prompted headlines across the country this morning about a possible independent run for President.

Then today, Bloomberg said he's not running. Will he or won't he and who gets hurt if he does. And well, there's also a new video as Hillary and Bill spoofed "The Sopranos" finale and announced her new campaign theme song and generate a little buzz.

If you have questions about the growing field of presidential wannabes. What an Independent Bloomberg and his massive wallet might mean for the rest of the candidates, or the rest of the week's political news, give us a call, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. You can e-mail us, talk@npr.org. And weigh in on our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation.

Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor. You can read his weekly Political Junkie column on our Web site, and you could hear him every Wednesday here as our political junkie in studio 3A. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hello.

CONAN: So Michael Bloomberg quit the Republican Party, he did not say he's running for President. In fact, today, he tried to stop all the speculation by saying, I think they're wasting their time. I am not a candidate. Is the door still open?

RUDIN: Well, of course. I mean, why bother switching parties if he's not going to run again for office. He's term limited as the mayor of New York, he has to give up his job in 2009, so why bother switching parties. I remember in 1990, when Bill Clinton was running for reelection of Governor of Arkansas, promising not to run for any other office, promising to fill out his four-year term, and of course, two years later, he was elected President.

So, what he's saying pre-canvassing(ph) is much different. I mean, do I think he's going to run? He could, he doesn't have to decide until next February. I don't think he has to decide that until then, only because I think he wants to wait to see whom the Democrats and Republicans put up, but…

CONAN: And just by way of a explanation by February 5th, which is the ultra super-duper-duper-duper-duper-duper-duper primary Tuesday. We should now who's likely, certainly, to win in both parties. And at that point, what are his decisions? I mean, obviously, one thing - one reason people might not want to wait that long is it takes a lot of time raising money. For Michael Bloomberg, that's a little easier.

RUDIN: Exactly. He's not going to wait for envelopes of $5 and $10 to come in the mail. He's self-financed, he's - the rumors are that he could spend half a billion dollars on this campaign with, you know, without dropping a hat. He -when he was elected in 2001, 2005, he spent upwards of $75 million each, which was a record in an elected mayor of New York City. Again, the fact that Bloomberg was really unknown, he was an untested political entity when he was elected in 2001, but having $75 million, $80 million to spend in an election is not bad.

CONAN: And that first election, though, everybody gives credit to his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, the Republican mayor of New York, for campaigning for Michael Bloomberg, and on the basis of Rudy Giuliani's tremendous popularity after the 9/11 heroics. Well, that got him elected and Rudy Giuliani might be feeling a little burned today, don't you think?

RUDIN: I think so. I think it's fair to say that no matter how much money that Bloomberg had to spend, if it weren't for Giuliani, who is again, the peak of his popularity right after 9/11 as you say, if it weren't for Giuliani's push, Michael Bloomberg would not have been elected in 2001. And I think if anybody is hurt in the short run by this decision, it would be Giuliani, given the fact that he probably feels this as a stab in the back.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. So Giuliani, excuse me, Michael Bloomberg we read, is looking at the field of Republicans and Democrats and saying, well, you know, maybe if John McCain gets nominated, it's not so good for me?

RUDIN: Well, you know, it's hard to say. When you have billions and billions of dollars at your disposal, it's hard to say how these people think, because, I mean, I make far less than that at NPR.

CONAN: Aha, no.

RUDIN: You know, far less.

CONAN: No. They - you didn't get the new raise?

RUDIN: Oh, no, far, I'm serious. You know, this is much less. It's like much less.

CONAN: All right.

RUDIN: So, but it's hard to say so. But I mean, look, if you look at his positions, his argument is really not really looking at candidates. His argument is that Washington doesn't work. You have a Republican in the White House, you have Democrats in control of Congress. No matter who is in charge, nothing seems to get done. And there are a lot of unfulfilled issues out there - on global warming, on the environment, on guns.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

RUDIN: He's a big advocate on tracking down guns, gun restrictions, you know, which is popular particularly in New York City, may not be - maybe less so popular in the states around the country.

CONAN: And all of that time saying he's going to be serving continue - those are issues of course that are really important for the man who's going to continue serving as mayor of New York until the end of his term in 2009.

RUDIN: Well, look, he spent last week - he was in New Hampshire. Of course, his girlfriend - it was his girlfriend's college reunion in New Hampshire, but it just so happens that New Hampshire is a pretty important state when it comes to presidential politics.

CONAN: Aha.

RUDIN: He spoke at Google the other day - on Monday in Google in California. And of course, that's a very popular stop for presidential candidates. So he insists - you know, he says, look, I do not intend to run, but we've heard that before from presidential candidates who ultimately changed their minds.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners in on this conversation. Ken Rudin's our guest, our Political Junkie. 800-989-8255. 800-989-TALK. E-mail - talk@npr.org. And let's turn to Raphael(ph). Raphael is with us from Brooklyn, New York.

RAPHAEL (Caller): Hey, Neal. I love your show.

CONAN: Thanks.

RAPHAEL: A lot of commentators are saying that as an independent, Bloomberg is fundamentally unelectable. But people are so sick of the partisan type of politics. And both Republican Congress and Democratic Congress are historic lows. So could your guest please address the fact: Is Bloomberg - does he have chance? I think he would be a great president.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

RUDIN: Well, you know, that's the exact same argument you heard in 1992 when we had the first President Bush and a Democratic Congress, and they were fighting each other. And they said, you know, there's too much partisanship, things are not working and then you got somebody like Ross Perot who - if only Ross Perot would run, if he would bring all of these, you know, solutions to all these problems - the problem of course, was Perot was not from the planet Earth. He was really an eccentric kind of guy.

The difference with Michael Bloomberg is that he's, you know, he's the same guy. He's not the most exciting person in the world. But he does have solutions. He does have ideas about how to bring about these solutions. And again, you know, if there was just total paralysis in Washington for the next six months, eight months, there may be a tremendous appetite for an independent candidate to get in.

But for all of, you know, all of Ross Perot's money - he spent, you know, gazillion $65 million, $70 million or more when he ran for president in 1992 - 19 million votes, but how many electoral votes did he get? Zero.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Raphael.

RAPHAEL: Thank you.

CONAN: And to get a better idea about Michael Bloomberg and his politics, Fred Dicker joins us now. He's the state editor for the New York Post. And he's with us on the line from the capital in Albany. Thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. FRED DICKER (State Editor, The New York Post). Thanks for inviting me. And greetings from the state capital in Albany, as you noted.

CONAN: The garden spot of the planet.

Mr. DICKER: Not now.

CONAN: You've seen how Bloomberg operates politically. Does him saying, oh, I'm not - does anybody believe him?

Mr. DICKER: Some people think that in the end he will not run. They think he's putting everything in place, as he's apt to do. He's very skillful as a manager to get ready to run. But I don't think anybody on the inside, including people very close to him, think he's made a final decision.

CONAN: So this is going to be postponed for some time. And he's just going to bask in the headlines in the meantime?

Mr. DICKER: You know, it's something unusual in politics, as we know, for leading politicians to enjoy attention. And mayor Mike Bloomberg enjoys this along with the best of them.

CONAN: And how do people think he has performed as mayor? If, for example, you're running up the list of two or three things he might tout in an ad for a higher political office, just speculating, what might those things be?

Mr. DICKER: Well, he's doing extra ordinarily well. He's at about 75 percent polls in a second term, which is very unusual in such a fractious city. He's seen as a very skillful manager. He's a guy who's lowered property taxes at times after he refused them. And he got some praise for that. He is thought of as an able manager. He's had some very creative ideas, and most recently, come up with a plan or the scheme so-called congestion pricing to try to reduce pollution and traffic in Manhattan. That's very controversial, but also a very well thought out plan.

So he's an idea guy. He's an experienced manager. And clearly, he's a success from the private sector. And I think a lot of people would recognize that he deserves a lot of praise for what he's done.

CONAN: Is he an ideologue?

Mr. DICKER: No. He seems to be liberal - by the way, he's a self-described liberal Democrat. When he first ran as a Republican for mayor, he was asked about his politics and he said he was a liberal. So, like most social issues, whether it's on gay rights or immigration reform, use of the public money to ameliorate social problems - he's a liberal. Certainly on gun control. And certainly, though, on some other issues - public finance and foreign policy - I think he is much conservative. So he's an interesting mix.

CONAN: And are there - I know that he said that he not only smoked marijuana, he enjoyed it. Any other big skeletons in his closet?

Mr. DICKER: No. And I don't even think that's a skeleton. Whether anything is there that could come out that hasn't already - I don't know. I mean, his subject as mayor of New York City to some of the most, if not the most intense political scrutiny this side of Washington, D.C. And if it hasn't come out by now, I'd somehow doubt that it will.

CONAN: Go ahead, Ken.

RUDIN: Well, I was about to say, if the presidential election in 2008 becomes a subway series - if you have Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani and now Michael Bloomberg…

Mr. DICKER: Yeah.

RUDIN: …will the rest of the country care?

Mr. DICKER: They might. I mean, they care about who their president is, I think. And it doesn't necessarily matter if it's from their home state or if all the candidates are from one state. So I think they definitely will care. And I think they'll find it very exciting. I mean, Bloomberg is a very bright guy. Rudy Giuliani is a remarkable figure. And Senator Hillary Clinton is - I know slides(ph) when it comes to intelligence, though she's a remarkable figure as the first lady and first woman, obviously, who is likely to be a presidential candidate.

CONAN: And do you buy the conventional wisdom that a Bloomberg candidacy hurts Giuliani?

Mr. DICKER: I think a Bloomberg's candidacy hurts Hillary Clinton. And I think we're already seeing signs of that. He's generally very - as I said liberal -on the liberal side of political spectrum. And I think to the extent that he eats into the votes of one or the other candidates, it's more likely to be the Democrat.

CONAN: Fred Dicker, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Mr. DICKER: Thanks for inviting me. Take care.

CONAN: Fred Dicker, state editor for the New York Post, joined us on the phone from New York State's capital in Albany, that's right at the confluence of the Hudson and the Mohawk Rivers in upstate New York.

RUDIN: I've read that somewhere. Yeah.

CONAN: You've read that somewhere. Yeah. Yeah. Our guest, of course, is Ken Rudin, our Political Junkie. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Email is talk@npr.org. And this is TALK OF THE NATION coming to you from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get some more callers on the line. This is Sam(ph). Sam is with us from Boulder, Colorado.

SAM: Hey. I had a question concerning the candidate's theme song.

CONAN: Go ahead.

SAM: Okay. So you know how Hillary Clinton recently chose her theme song - and I think it's Celine Dion or something like that.

CONAN: Well, let's not just spoil the surprise. This is a video that was put out on her Web site yesterday. And Ken, I know you haven't seen the final episode of "The Sopranos," but…

Mr. DICKER: I have not.

CONAN: …let's just say that we're going to run into the Clinton family at a diner in New York. And here's Hillary and Bill Clinton, Sopranos-style.

(Soundbite of Hillary Clinton campaign ad)

Sen. HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): I ordered for the table.

President BILL CLINTON: No ice creams?

Sen. CLINTON: I'm looking out for you. Where is Chelsea?

Pres. CLINTON: Parallel parking.

CONAN: And we don't see it, but I'm sure she's much better than Meadow. Anyway, Sam, go ahead.

SAM: Fabulous. Anyway, I was actually just wondering if the candidates - when they choose these songs, if they consider certain age groups that they're trying to appeal to or certain areas, you know, of the general population and if that plays the role in their choice? And if that does, what theme songs do you think various potential candidates are going to start to lean to just to try to appeal people?

CONAN: Do you think that in her choice, Ken Rudin, that Hillary Clinton is going for the Canadian vote with Celine Dion?

SAM: (Unintelligible).

RUDIN: Oh, see I was confused. I though it E.J. Dion(ph) who sang that song.

CONAN: No.

RUDIN: No. No.

CONAN: That's a different song altogether.

RUDIN: I'm sorry. Yeah.

CONAN: That's okay.

RUDIN: Well, no. Look, there are fewer and fewer people who get involved and interested in politics every cycle. We see that all the time. I think given the fact that more and more people are following politics on Jon Stewart, on the Internet, things like that, I think is a great way to attract people who would not normally vote. We keep talking about that, you know, with all the problems going on, more and more people, more and more young people might care about this election more than ever. But ultimately, it remains to be seen who actually comes out and votes.

CONAN: And, Sam, your idea on what theme songs might be appropriate for which candidate, it's a rich thought. We may have to return to this idea at some future political junkie as we give this - the thought it deserves.

SAM: Well, actually, I'm looking forward to some hit tunes.

CONAN: All right. And, Sam, by the way, did you go and see the Hillary Clinton video?

SAM: You know, I haven't yet. This is going to be my first election voting, so I have to research up on everything.

CONAN: Well, good luck then.

SAM: Thank you very much. I'm looking forward to seeing it.

CONAN: Appreciate it.

SAM: Thanks. Bye

RUDIN: It wasn't E.J. Dion?

CONAN: No, it wasn't E.J. Dion.

RUDIN: No.

CONAN: No, no. It was Colonel Mustard with candlestick in the observatory. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is Bob(ph). Bob is with us from Hampton Bay. Hampton Bay is where.

BOB (Caller): Hampton Bay is Long Island.

CONAN: Go ahead.

BOB: Quick question. Everybody talks about Ross Perot. What's his opinions on, I guess, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush over the last 20 years?

CONAN: Where is Ross Perot been all this time, Ken Rudin?

RUDIN: Well, you know what, we were actually talking about that the other day. It's kind of interesting. The guy who got more votes than any other independent candidate in history, spent the most as well.

CONAN: Not the highest percentage.

RUDIN: Not the highest percentage. That was probably Teddy Roosevelt in 1912. But Ross Perot getting the 18, 19 million votes in 1992, nobody has come close to that. And yet - and he ran again in 1996 as a Reform Party candidate, and I think he was widely ridiculed, you know, ran out of town, and he has not been heard from since.

But it's interesting, Ross Perot, when he ran in 1992, I think most people feel that, ultimately, he caused George W. - George HW Bush, the presidency. He took more votes given his views on the balanced budget and the spending - out of control spending, and he came from a conservative background, Ross Perot, pro-military things like that. Bloomberg, on the other hand, comes from, as we say, as we said, a liberal background. He's pro-gay rights. He's, you know, against guns. He's pro-abortion rights. And I think that he could do the opposite effect that Ross Perot had in '92 and by hurting the Democratic Party.

BOB: I just think that, sooner or later, somebody should give Ross a call and see what he thinks these days.

CONAN: We'd be happy if Ross would answer his phone.

RUDIN: We have tried.

CONAN: Yeah.

RUDIN: We have tried over the years. Absolutely.

CONAN: Thanks, Bob.

BOB: All right.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail question from Diane(ph) in Intervale, New Hampshire. I was revealed this week that Rudy Giuliani astute participation in the Iraq Study Group in favor of reaping huge speaking fees. Will this revelation resonate poorly with the national defense crowd he's now trying to please?

RUDIN: Well, I did see that issue raised. And I think that the Giuliani campaigns' response to is that - look, he was planning on running for president. He was considered a likely presidential candidate. And any participation he would have in the Iraq Study Group would be seen from the lens of somebody - a political candidate talking. So, his official reason for not participating was that he had conflicts and he did give other speeches. But I think, ultimately, he made the right decision given the fact that he was likely to become a candidate.

CONAN: And, in fact, people and how they raised their money, at least when they weren't in office, this is coming around to be an issue for John Edwards as well.

RUDIN: Regarding? I'm sorry.

CONAN: His work for the big Wall Street firm that he was working for, well, making speeches for the fund to help the poor.

RUDIN: And he got a lot of praises for that too. And given the fact - I mean, there's a lot of talk about hypocrisy with John Edwards.

CONAN: The hedge fund candidate.

RUDIN: The hedge fund, exactly, and the fact that he's talked about how much money that the two Americas, the rich America and poor America, how much money he's made. But, look, nobody criticized Franklin D. Roosevelt for helping the poor, even though, he was a multimillionaire. John Kennedy, of course, a multimillionaire worked for poor Americans. So, I don't know if it'll backfire on Edwards. But there is some questions and comments about hypocrisy there.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor. You can read his weekly political junkie column and download his podcast at our Web site, npr.org. Ken, we'll see you next Wednesday.

RUDIN: Thanks a lot, Neal.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

(Soundbite of music)

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