Bloomberg Leaves GOP, Denies Presidential Rumors
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JIM LEHRER: Now, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, suddenly a politician without a party. NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.
KWAME HOLMAN: New York Mayor Bloomberg tried today to dampen speculation that he would run for president.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, Mayor of New York City: I’m not running for president, and I’m going to be mayor for the next 925 days.
KWAME HOLMAN: Bloomberg insisted that he would see out his second term, but added…
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I do think the more people that run for office, the better.
KWAME HOLMAN: The 65-year-old multi-billionaire businessman-turned-mayor fueled the speculation yesterday when, after six years as a Republican, he changed his political status to “unaffiliated.” In a statement, he said, “I believe this brings my affiliation into alignment with how I have led and will continue to lead our city.”
This isn’t the first time Bloomberg has switched his political affiliation. The longtime Democrat jumped to the GOP to run for mayor in 2001.
Bloomberg made his billions with a steady rise through the ranks on Wall Street that culminated in his giant financial news and media empire, Bloomberg L.P. He spent a reported $70 million of his own money in his first try for elected office, narrowly beating Democrat Mark Green.
Taking over with the endorsement of popular predecessor Rudy Giuliani after the September 11th attacks, Mayor Bloomberg took unpopular stands on some issues. He raised property taxes to boost the city’s battered post-9/11 economy; took over its public school system; enacted a smoking ban and a city ban on trans-fats in foods.
But in 2005, Bloomberg went on to win a second term by a wide margin, and his efforts to reduce crime, handle a citywide transit strike, and jumpstart plans for the Ground Zero site increased his popularity with many New Yorkers. Today, Bloomberg enjoys nearly his highest approval ratings, about 74 percent.
Bloomberg has garnered attention on the national stage for his calls to combat global warming and crack down on illegal guns. Yesterday, after a conference in Los Angeles aimed at bridging the partisan divides in American politics, Bloomberg and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke with the NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff.
JUDY WOODRUFF: If you feel so strongly about these issues, why not run as an independent, as some have done in the past, at the very least to get those issues out there and in the national debate?
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: You don’t have to run for president to get the issues out there. The only reason to run for president is to win and be president and to affect, not just the dialogue, but to change things.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So you would only run if you thought you could win?
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Oh, I think anybody that runs for anything should want to run to win. I can’t imagine why you would run to lose.
Possible presidential run
JIM LEHRER: And to Dan Balz, chief political reporter for the Washington Post.
Dan, does the Bloomberg affiliated-unaffiliated decision deserve all the attention it's receiving from the press and elsewhere?
DAN BALZ, Political Reporter, Washington Post: I think it does, Jim. I think it's a signal on his part that he's going to look hard at whether he wants to run as an independent. I think that what he'd said to Judy in that interview is important: The reason to run is to run to win and to do something.
I think he is a long way from having made a decision. I think he wants to continue to raise his visibility, move around the country in a way that he hasn't been able to do, begin to explore, to see whether there's a receptivity. We know there's a receptivity to the general message he's talking about, which is that the political system in Washington is broken. I think he wants to find out whether there's real receptivity to Michael Bloomberg as the person to fix that.
JIM LEHRER: Judy talked to Bloomberg again today on the telephone, and he told her that running for president as an independent is a very, very difficult task. Would you agree with that? What are the obstacles that would face Bloomberg or anybody else at this stage of the game in running for president?
DAN BALZ: Well, this is a country that is inclined to vote for one of the two major party candidates. Independent candidates come along, particularly when times are difficult. Ross Perot in 1992 got 19 percent of the vote; that's the second highest anybody's ever gotten.
What any independent has to look at is whether there is a real chance of winning or whether you are running simply to send a message or to be a spoiler. And it doesn't sound to me as though Mayor Bloomberg wants to do it that way, that he wants to run.
They've got a kind of a checklist in their own minds at this point, which they will begin to take a serious look at, but not for a long time, probably not until it's clear who the major party nominees are going to be early next year. And if the stars align for him, I think he might do it.
Impact on major party nominees
JIM LEHRER: But the scenario that would cause him to run would require what, a weak Democratic ticket and a weak Republican ticket that he felt that he could slip over?
DAN BALZ: They've got a kind of a four-point test that they are mulling about in their minds. The first is exactly as you said: Do the two major party nominees emerge from the primaries battered enough that they have fairly high negative ratings?
A second thing that they will look at, which already exists, is the general level of dissatisfaction in the country. We're seeing it now at roughly 70 percent of the public saying the country is going in the wrong direction. That's an important ingredient for him to be able to get in.
A third element would be, what is the overall receptivity to an independent candidacy? I think they would want to see that well north of 50 percent, maybe closer to 60 percent.
And, finally, I think they want to see, how popular would Mayor Bloomberg be starting out as a candidate? And would it be possible for him to grow from where that is to in the neighborhood of 40 percent, which you would have to think you would have to get if you wanted to win the election?
He can't start out this race if he gets into it next year at 5 percent. It's too much distance to go. So I think part of what he will do this year is just try to inch himself up and see whether that's possible. But he's a hard-headed businessman, Jim. He's not going to jump into this blindly.
JIM LEHRER: As a matter of expectation, would his candidacy tend to take more votes from Republicans or Democrats?
DAN BALZ: I think it's very hard to tell at this point. I think, until you can see who the major party nominees are, it's very hard to know that. Some of the early polling that we've looked at suggests that he draws sort of from both parties, but I think that I think we can't evaluate that intelligently until we see what the two tickets look like.
I mean, it's possible -- let's say Barack Obama were the candidate of the Democratic Party. His message is very similar, or likely would be very similar, to Mayor Bloomberg's, which is, "We need a new kind of politics. Things are broken. We've got to try to make Washington work better." In that case, maybe he wouldn't run. So I think he would have to look at who's actually on the two tickets.
The money factor
JIM LEHRER: What do you make of the conventional wisdom, Dan, that, hey, if he decides to run, the one thing he's got going for him is a lot of money. He could spend billions if he needed to. Is that a reality? And how important is that?
DAN BALZ: I think everything begins for him with the fact that he would never have to worry about what it would cost to run this campaign. There've been huge figures thrown out -- who knows whether they're accurate -- but that go up to $1 billion of his own money that he'd be prepared to spend on this.
I think it's fair to say, if he gets into this, knowing what he did in New York -- he spent $150 million in two campaigns just in New York City -- that he would spend certainly north of half a billion dollars, and maybe more, but that certainly makes it possible. I don't think he could think about this as seriously as some of the people around him are thinking about it, were it not for the fact that he has all that money, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: So when you say people around him are thinking about this seriously, define what you mean?
DAN BALZ: Well, they believe that there is a receptivity to the kind of message that he is preaching. We've heard it again this week when he was on his trip to California, which is to say, "Washington is broken. The two major parties have engaged in partisan and polarized politics for so long that the country is not getting at the big problems that it's facing, that somehow we need to bring a different style of politics."
What he would talk about is the kind of competence that he thinks he's brought to New York City, a non-ideological style of politics, post-partisan politics, as Governor Schwarzenegger in California likes to call it. I think that's what they see, that there is already some hunger for that, at least among a significant slice of the American people.
So they believe that some of the ingredients already exist. I think what they want to see is what things really look like next year.
JIM LEHRER: OK, Dan, thank you very much.
DAN BALZ: Thank you, Jim.