Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Bloomberg playing 'presidential footsie'

Despite Barack Obama's decisive victory in Iowa last week, and double-digit leads for tonight's primary in New Hampshire, and maybe because the Republican landscape remains so unclear, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to play the will-he-or-won't-he game.
Onto this crowded and rejuvenated political stage now comes Michael Bloomberg, our skilled and uncommonly non-neurotic mayor, engaged in a different variety of the electoral enterprise—a prolonged game of Presidential footsie. Even as he has issued denials of interest to everyone from the press corps at City Hall to Ryan Seacrest on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve broadcast, Bloomberg has deputized some of his leading aides to draw up scenarios for a third-party candidacy and to keep the interest of the press well fluffed. The press, titillated by access, has coƶperated with front-page “would-he, could-he” stories. This week, Bloomberg will attend a meeting of Unity08, in Oklahoma, to discuss third-party options, and in recent weeks he has displayed a vague yet imperious disdain for the assembled candidates, while privately hustling from one policy consultant and policy grandee to the next, to ask, “What chance does a five-foot-seven billionaire Jew who’s divorced really have of becoming President?”

The reason that Bloomberg’s coy exploratory venture has earned him such attention is obvious. “There are two things that are important in politics,” Mark Hanna, the Ohio industrialist and senator who ran William McKinley’s campaign, in 1896, said. “The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.” All the front-runners except Mike Huckabee are millionaires to one degree or another—Obama is the poorest, with a net worth of just over a million dollars, Mitt Romney the richest, with two hundred million—but Bloomberg is wealthier by an order of magnitude. According to Forbes, he is worth more than eleven billion dollars. Bloomberg owns an estate in Bermuda, a horse farm in Westchester County, a condominium in Vail, a ten-million-dollar town house in London, and a thirteen-and-a-half-million-dollar town house on East Seventy-ninth Street. To commute among them, he takes his private jet, a Falcon 9. He isn’t stingy, though; he’s one of the leading philanthropists in the United States and has said that at some point he hopes to give away as much as four hundred million dollars a year.

Still, running for President is not cheap.
The biggest question, obviously, is whether a third-party candidate -- Bloomberg is a nominal Independent -- can really compete in a two-party system. I know a lot of Republican Jews who remain excited about the possibility of voting for someone they agree with not just fiscally but socially, but most observers have so far said Bloomberg couldn't overcome the outsider handicap.

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