Sunday, June 24, 2007

Bloomberg's Best Bet: Run as a Democrat

This weekend’s TV talkathon has been about New York’s Mayor leaving the Republican Party to run for President as an Independent. But as this politically dissonant year goes on, it may make more sense for Mike Bloomberg to go for the Democratic nomination.

Anyone willing to spend half a billion dollars on a campaign, as Bloomberg is, should not be eager to put a sizable portion of it into creating an organization and getting on the ballot in every state.

A lifelong Democrat, Bloomberg became a Republican for tactical reasons in 2001 to run for Mayor. Now he has changed his registration to “unaffiliated.”

For the past six years, the Mayor has been a Republican in name only. A leading Democratic political consultant said about him this week: “If you closed your eyes and you were told that someone was pro-public education, pro-choice, pro-immigration rights, pro-gun control, pro-civil rights, pro-gay rights and pro-women’s rights--you would be pretty happy if you were a Democrat.”

When that candidate has been called America’s “leading centrist” by George Will and potentially “the most efficient President” by media baron and fellow billionaire Rupert Murdoch, visions of a political realignment began to seem possible: the Democratic center freed from the stigma of “special interests” coupled with traditional pre-Bush Republicans who want to take back their party from the radical right allied with voters so disgusted with both parties that they call themselves Independent.

Two big but not insurmountable obstacles to the Democratic nomination are Hillary Clinton and the war in Iraq, and it may be their nexus that could open the door for Bloomberg.

She is still struggling to overcome her 2002 vote, seen by anti-war Democrats as a huge albatross. As Mayor of the nation’s most vulnerable city, Bloomberg has been less than ardent in supporting our involvement in Iraq and has begun to back away from it.

Two weeks ago, he told Google employees that America “is really in trouble.” “There’s the war, there is our relationships around the world,” Bloomberg said. “Our reputation has been hurt very badly in the last few years” and he criticized a “go-it-alone mentality” in an increasingly interconnected world.

Despite all the money and organization behind her, Hillary Clinton’s negatives will not disappear and, from here to November ’08, Democrats will be worrying about the Republicans’ glee at the prospect of running against her, no matter who they nominate.

Bloomberg’s lack of passion and charisma may be less than fatal to his chances for the Democratic nomination. Bill Clinton almost put the 1988 convention to sleep with his boring oratory before remaking himself as the anti-Bush four years later.

Hillary may be too late, Obama too early and John Edwards too insubstantial for ’08. Al Gore, who seems to have lost his taste for elective politics, might find Bloomberg more palatable than any of them in both substance and temperament to stand in for what he stands for.

Behind the scenes, the Mayor has kept his ties to the Democratic Leadership Council and other power centers of the party. If he doesn’t wait too long, he could get into that game and rake in all the chips.

If he can create something that passes for unity in his once-and-future party, Bloomberg would be in good shape for a head-to-head confrontation with Giuliani’s volatility, Romney’s emptiness (his Mormon faith might be more of an issue than the Mayor’s Jewish background) or Fred Thompson’s lack of experience in managing a corner grocery store, let alone the largest bureaucracy in the world.

To run as an Independent, Bloomberg would have to depend on support from the likes of Unity08, which is planning online voting to pick their candidate, not too promising for someone who wants to win not to run a feel-good campaign like Ralph Nader or Ross Perot.

There is precedent for party-switching by New York Mayors. John Lindsay was elected as a Republican in 1965, turned Democrat in 1971 and ran for President in his new party’s primaries a year later. He failed, but Bloomberg has much more going for him.

Last month, while being honored as one of Time’s 100 most influential people, the Mayor paid warm tribute to Red Auerbach, the legendary coach of the Boston Celtics, for knowing how to win with honest effort and without “trash talk.”

He was obviously thinking about more than basketball.

1 comment:

Brian Shapiro said...

without going further into details, i'd say this--i'd vote for bloomberg as an independent, but not as a democrat, so this would lose my vote.