No presidential run for Bloomberg

February 28, 2008 4:06:51 PM PST
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has squashed for good the possibility of running as an independent in this year's presidential race, declaring in a newspaper editorial that he will not seek the White House but might support another candidate who embraces bipartisan governing. After the editorial appeared in Thursday's New York Times, Bloomberg deflected a question about his decision when calling into a WOR-AM telethon Thursday morning, saying only that he was going "to keep working for the city."

The 66-year-old billionaire businessman noted that he has 672 days left at his City Hall job, "and I'm going to do it."

Ending a dance of presidential speculation that began more than two years ago, Bloomberg said in the editorial that he will not launch his own bid but will work to "steer the national conversation away from partisanship and toward unity; away from ideology and toward common sense; away from sound bites and toward substance."

Bloomberg aides and associates had been assembling the framework for an independent campaign, and if he had decided to run, a $1 billion operation would have been ready to go. Instead, Bloomberg hinted in the editorial, he may lend his wealth and weight to someone else.

"If a candidate takes an independent, nonpartisan approach - and embraces practical solutions that challenge party orthodoxy - I'll join others in helping that candidate win the White House," he said.

A close Bloomberg associate told The Associated Press that the mayor had been wrestling with a decision until very recently, reaching a conclusion only in the last few days.

Several factors influenced him, according to the associate, who requested anonymity to discuss internal decisions. One of Bloomberg's main reasons for staying out is that he believes the presidential race has the potential to become a centrist contest, primarily because of the rise of Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, both of whom have championed bipartisanship.

Centrist leadership would have been Bloomberg's chief selling point as a presidential candidate, and it was looking less likely that he would have been able to stand out with that message, the associate said.

Bloomberg, who had been doing extensive polling and state-by-state data collection to determine his viability as a candidate, also concluded that a third-party campaign would be a terribly heavy lift.

"I listened carefully to those who encouraged me to run, but I am not - and will not be - a candidate for president," he wrote in the editorial. "I have watched this campaign unfold, and I am hopeful that the current campaigns can rise to the challenge by offering truly independent leadership."

A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed that Bloomberg could not break out of single digits when matched up in three key presidential swing states in contests against Obama and McCain, and also against McCain and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In Florida, Bloomberg drew 7 percent and 9 percent in those hypothetical matchups; in Ohio, he had 6 percent in each contest; in Pennsylvania he had 7 percent in each race, according to the survey.

It is clear that Bloomberg intends to remain a major player in the race and will continue to speak out about not only bipartisan governing but his pet causes, including gun control, immigration, climate change and fiscal responsibility.

He wrote in the editorial that the candidates "seem to be afraid" to level with the American people. The candidate who puts aside partisanship and "recognizes that the party is over" is the one who will win in November, he said.

Putting his endorsement - and wealth - behind one of the presidential contenders could make a significant difference in the race. And Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent, has ties to Obama, McCain and Clinton.

Last November, Bloomberg met Obama for a highly publicized breakfast. The mayor has praised Obama for some of his positions, such as supporting merit pay for teachers.

He also has worked closely with Clinton, his home state senator, and has a friendly relationship with McCain.

Bloomberg's friend and political ally, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has endorsed McCain, and the Arizona senator said during a Republican debate that Bloomberg had done "remarkable things" with the city education system.

The mayor, who has almost two years left in his second term at City Hall, had publicly denied any interest in running for president since one of his political advisers first planted the seed more than two years ago.

But his denials grew weaker in recent months as aides and supporters quietly began laying the groundwork for a third-party campaign.

Bloomberg's preparation for a presidential bid was extensive. Besides the nationwide polling and data-collection, Bloomberg operatives had also completed a detailed study and preparation for a state-by-state ballot access drive.

Getting on the ballot would have been one of his most unwieldy obstacles. The process varies greatly from state to state and would have required him to obtain hundreds of thousands of signatures according to a timetable that has its first key date on March 5.

Beginning then, a Bloomberg campaign would have had to start gathering signatures to get on the ballot in Texas, which has one of the earliest deadlines for third-party candidates.