Will Mayor Bloomberg run for president?

Despite his denial, strong indications he might
January 9, 2008 9:00:00 PM PST
Bits of information about millions of voters are quietly being collected and analyzed so that Mayor Michael Bloomberg can gauge potential nationwide support as he decides whether to launch an independent presidential campaign.Using an approach known as microtargeting, research firms working for Bloomberg are gathering comprehensive information that the mayor's operatives hope to use to create three groups - strong supporters, persuadable supporters and the millions of volunteers that a third-party campaign would need to organize, associates told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The exhaustive data collection began months ago, and when the analysis begins shortly, it will provide the data-obsessed billionaire businessman with the information he will use to decide whether to run for the White House.

"They want a hard-headed sense of their chances," said Doug Schoen, who spearheaded Bloomberg's voter database efforts, known as microtargeting, for his two mayoral campaigns.

Bloomberg's spokesman Stu Loeser declined to comment.

Microtargeting looks at information like whether a voter owns homes or has children in college, where he goes on vacation, what kind of car he drives, what kind of computer he uses, what he watches on television, which magazines he reads, whom he supported in past elections. All the puzzle pieces are then arranged to create a picture of every person.

The scope of the research, details of which were revealed to The AP, demonstrates how seriously Bloomberg is considering running for president, despite his almost-daily denials that he isn't entering the race. The extensive coast-to-coast research effort shows that Bloomberg is willing to dig deep into his wallet simply to gauge his probability of winning and lining up the proper support network along the way.

Schoen says he is not working for Bloomberg now. But he is part of the mayor's inner circle and makes a convincing and well-researched case in his new book, "Declaring Independence," about how a third-party candidate such as Bloomberg could launch a White House bid and upset the election this year.

Schoen was widely recognized for his microtargeting work in Bloomberg's first campaign. It was considered a groundbreaking concept in 2001 to gather and use information on individual voters, rather than voting blocs, to tailor and tweak the campaign message, advertisements and overall theme.

The Bloomberg database being created nationally would also be used in those same ways if he were to run, Schoen said. But for now, it will serve as the basis of gauging potential support for a third-party bid. Most of the data already exist in commercial databases that Bloomberg can simply purchase. It will then be analyzed to determine how each voter fits into the three categories.

A strong supporter might be someone who voted for an independent in the past, is not affiliated with any party, and who expresses strong disgust about the two-party system, Schoen said. A persuadable supporter might be a voter who doesn't feel strongly about a particular Democrat or Republican candidate yet. And a potential volunteer might be someone who responds to the idea of a third-party candidate and is interested in activism.

Bloomberg's public denials of any interest in running are getting weaker. He typically says only that he is "not a candidate," which states only a fact of the day, rather than addressing his intentions down the line.

William Cunningham, who worked on Bloomberg's mayoral campaigns and was communications director during his first term, said it makes sense that Bloomberg - who founded the financial information company, Bloomberg LP - would gather voter information in this way.

"The mayor has both built a business and managed the city by using data and analyzing it, so it would seem to me that any other venture he gets involved in, he'd be analyzing and collecting data," he said.

For Bloomberg's campaigns in 2001 and 2005, he spent more than $155 million, and in both cases, poured millions into the development of his voter database.

The work that Schoen did in 2001 came as Republicans were also developing a similar concept, known nationally during the 2004 presidential election as "Voter Vault."

Now, mictrotargeting has become a crucial tool for political campaigns.

The obstacles to a third-party victory are enormous, but Schoen argues they are not insurmountable.

Previous independent failures like George Wallace, John Anderson and H. Ross Perot faced problems of money, organization and ballot access that someone like Bloomberg could more easily overcome, Schoen says in his book.

The 65-year-old mayor already has the money - Fortune magazine estimates his worth in the neighborhood of $11.5 billion, and others have speculated it could be double that.

Next comes organization, and Bloomberg operatives believe they could recruit a million volunteers within a month of launching a campaign, aided by information gleaned from the voter database.

A major task for the volunteer force would be doing the ground work to get him on the ballot - a tricky process that differs wildly by state.

The first deadline to get on a state ballot is May 12 in Texas, and petitioners can only begin collecting signatures after the state's March 4 major party primary.

Over the next several weeks, Bloomberg aides will analyze the information in the voter database while also collecting data from surveys and polls, they say. The results of the major party primaries will also be dissected as another indicator of voter attitudes and trends.

So far, the surprise outcomes of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary have added urgency and strength to the Bloomberg operation, Schoen said.

"The uncertainty in the nominating process on both sides makes it more likely that Mike Bloomberg will explore a candidacy," he said.