NEW YORK – Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg sees an opportunity emerging in presidential politics after Hillary Clinton’s defeat in New Hampshire and Donald Trump’s ascension in the tumultuous Republican race.
But those surrounding the billionaire centrist caution that he’s not rushing to join the competition.
Bloomberg, widely considered a fiscal conservative but social liberal, has taken the first steps to mount an independent campaign in an election year dominated by candidates drawing support from their parties’ fringes.
But even as Trump and self-described “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders emerged victorious in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Bloomberg’s aides suggested that Clinton’s shortfall may not be enough to compel his third-party run.
They point to the upcoming voting states — including South Carolina, Nevada, and the bulk of southern states voting on Super Tuesday, March 1 — which could give the former secretary of state a chance to make a comeback.
If the contest between Sanders and Clinton remains close, Bloomberg likely won’t have enough clarity in time for his self-imposed March deadline to make a decision.
His team this week will commission a new poll gauging Bloomberg’s chances and research ballot access rights in the event of a third-party run, according to a series of interviews with Bloomberg aides and political consultants.
Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent worth $37 billion, said this week that he was “looking at all the options” as he lamented the current condition of the campaign.
“I find the level of discourse and discussion distressingly banal and an outrage and an insult to the voters,” he told The Financial Times on Monday.
His staff would need to collect approximately 900,000 signatures to get on the ballot in all 50 states. While many state deadlines are not until the summer, the mayor’s team believes the petition process would need to begin early next month to be completed in time.
Bloomberg likely would skip areas where he can’t compete, like the Deep South, to focus on the coasts and big cities where moderates and independents may be drawn to his fiscal restraint coupled with gun control advocacy, moderate views on immigration and efforts to combat climate change.
Bloomberg, whom most pundits feel would likely pull more Democratic than Republican voters, could also dip into his vast fortune to blanket the airwaves and internet with ads and bankroll sophisticated voter tracker efforts. He is said to be willing to spend up to $1 billion of his own money on the race.
But the obstacles facing Bloomberg are many.
Bloomberg had previously argued that a “short, Jewish, divorced billionaire” would be a tough sell nationally. Liberals may worry about his close ties to Wall Street. Conservatives may balk at his expansive gun-control efforts.
The last third-party candidate with any broad appeal was Ross Perot, who landed 19 percent of the popular vote but didn’t win a state in 1992.