Bloomberg (& company?) in the wings

Posted: Monday, January 14, 2008

If you thought Sen. Barack Obama's victory in the Iowa caucuses was historic and Sen. Hillary Clinton's outta-nowhere win in the New Hampshire primary extraordinary, then be prepared to gasp once again if New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announces a bid for the White House.

That's because the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent would announce not only his own candidacy but also that of his running mate. A source close to the impending Bloomberg presidential effort told me last Thursday, "If Mike Bloomberg were to petition to get on the ballot, it would be easier to do so with a vice presidential candidate."

Let me disclose that I worked on Bloomberg's first campaign for mayor, in 2001. I mention this because, while the campaign didn't officially kick off until June of that year, my informal work on it began in mid-February. So I asked the Bloomberg operative if past is prologue: "Is it safe to assume you guys are already interviewing and vetting a No. 2 for Bloomberg?" He said, "That's a fair assumption on your part."

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A Bloomberg presidential run looked much more doubtful just a few days ago, when everyone, including Clinton herself, thought the charismatic senator from Illinois would run off with the New Hampshire primary. That Obama's tidal wave out of Iowa smacked up against the stone walls of the Granite State means the billionaire mayor's White House hunt is back on track. Thursday news broke that Bloomberg has been quietly compiling months of polling and voter data to assess his presidential chances. And Doug Schoen, a key adviser and strategist from the mayor's two campaigns, told the Los Angeles Times last weekend, "Bloomberg is going to spend the next two months doing an assessment of his prospects."

Just whom Team Bloomberg has met with about joining the ticket is not known. But Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and former senator Sam Nunn, D-Ga., have been mentioned frequently. The vetting is going on because the calendar demands such a bold move.

People around Bloomberg have said that if he were to pull the trigger on an Oval Office run, it would happen sometime around March 5. That's when the petitioning process to get on the ballot in Texas begins. He would need 74,108 signatures by May 12 for an independent run in that state. According to Richard Winger of Ballot Access News, if Bloomberg instead accepted the nomination of the Reform or Texas Independence parties, which have filed their intention to petition with the Texas secretary of state, he would have an additional week to gather only 43,991 signatures.

For the major parties, under normal circumstances, getting on a state's ballot can be difficult. For an independent challenger, the obstacles are even greater. Usually such a candidate is underfunded and out-lawyered. That wouldn't be a worry for Bloomberg, who could spend $1 billion of his own money on a campaign.

And by having a running mate at the outset, rather than waiting until the late summer, when the Democrats and Republicans will nominate their presidential and vice presidential candidates, Bloomberg would be saved the headache of going back to all those states to amend the ballots to include his No. 2.

The independent mayor has used his own jet to go from one high-profile forum to another to cultivate an image of nonpartisan success. The latest example was Monday's meeting hosted by University of Oklahoma president and former senator David Boren, D-Okla., along with Hagel, Nunn and other possible vice presidential choices. All present decried Washington's partisan gridlock. Bloomberg didn't say much and didn't take questions from the media.

I'll take Bloomberg at his word that he is not running. Those close to him say he truly hasn't made up his mind. But this flurry of activity around him squares with my knowledge of the mayor as a deliberative chief executive who takes in as much information as possible before making a decision - even as subordinates stir the presidential pot.

• Jonathan Capehart is a member of the editorial page staff of The Washington Post.

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