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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now to news that is roiling the presidential campaigns and it's about someone who says he's not even a candidate.

Several days ago, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg checked off a box on a voter registration form into hitting I do not wish to be enrolled in a party. Well, with that simple check mark, the mayor recently a Republican and before that a lifelong Democrat has created fevered speculation that he is gearing up for a presidential run as an independent.

Today in New York, Bloomberg swatted that speculation down. He said, I'm not a candidate, and he said, he intends to serve out the remainder of his term as mayor. Then he was asked if there were any circumstances under which he'd consider a run for president.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (New York): Oh, that's a hypothetical question. I mean, if everybody in the world was dead and I was the only one alive, yes, sure. I mean, come on - not. No, that's...

BLOCK: Oh, and did we mention that Bloomberg is a billionaire many times over. Well, Amy Walter of the daily online political journal Hotline is here with us to figure out what all this might mean. Hi, Amy.

Ms. AMY WALTER (Editor in Chief, The Hotline): Hi, good to see you.

BLOCK: Well, Michael Bloomberg has been traveling around the country to key states, sounding like a presidential candidate, aides are dropping big hands that he will run, but then you hear him today saying I'm not running. What do you think? Is he going to run?

Ms. WALTER: Is he going to run or isn't he is the question that's going to certainly consume Washington for the next few weeks here. Everybody around Mayor Bloomberg will tell you that this is a very pragmatic person, and he's not interested in running simply for the experience of running. He will do it only if he sees an opportunity to win.

BLOCK: Would there be a scenario where there is an opportunity to win? Who might he draw voters from?

Ms. WALTER: Well, I think what he can afford to do, on many levels it helps again to be a billionaire, is to wait and see who the parties pick as their nominees and just how beat up they got during the process. If what he sees is that there are two people running for president who look very flawed and there's a big wide opening then for a third party candidate, I think that would be the kind of scenario that he'd be looking for.

BLOCK: And that wouldn't be too late to wait that long.

Ms. WALTER: For a normal person, it would be too late. For somebody, though, who could spend $500 million to a billion dollars, it's really not too late simply because what makes it difficult for a third party candidate often is they are not going to be able to catch up in the money race, if they wait too long, and the second is getting on the ballots, which is very labor intensive but that can be solved by hiring people and again where money comes in handy.

BLOCK: Assuming that he were to run, knowing what his positions are as a liberal ostensibly Republican mayor, now an independent of New York City, where would he be getting voters. Who would be siding with him?

Ms. WALTER: Well, this is what's really interesting. You know, third party candidates, traditionally, their success comes at the expense of the status quo. In this case, it's obviously Republicans. They've held the White House now for the last eight years, so you would think that that's who he'd appeal to. At the same time, as you mentioned, his support on cultural issues much more closely aligned with Democrats.

The key group here then is where these independents are sitting today. Now, we know that in 2006 they provided the margin for Democrats to take control of Congress. We also know, though, that they're not enamored with Democrats. What I find fascinating is that in the last three years while support for Republicans, just in terms of the identity of Republicans, has gone down significantly, there's not been a corresponding rise for Democrats.

So there are voters out there who feel like they're not happy with the Republicans, but they sure aren't in love with Democrats. Those are the kind of people that Bloomberg would appeal to. At the same time, he does have to - he can't win just on that slice alone, you still have to be able to peel off some Republicans and Democrats. And as you know, when you run for president, it's all about the number 270. You've got to find a way to get enough Electoral College votes. That puts the whole map into a very interesting place.

BLOCK: Amy Walter, thanks so much.

Ms. WALTER: Thank you so much.

BLOCK: Amy Walter is editor in chief of the Hotline.

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