Bloomberg poised for third-party campaign

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is prepared to spend an unprecedented $1 billion of his own $5.5 billion personal fortune for a third-party presidential campaign, personal friends of the mayor tell The Washington Times.

“He has set aside $1 billion to go for it,” confided a long-time business adviser to the Republican mayor. “The thinking about where it will come from and do we have it is over, and the answer is yes, we can do it.”

Another personal friend and fellow Republican said in recent days that Mr. Bloomberg, who is a social liberal and fiscal conservative, has “lowered the bar” and upped the ante for a final decision on making a run.

The mayor has told close associates he will make a third-party run if he thinks he can influence the national debate and has said he will spend up to $1 billion. Earlier, he told friends he would make a run only if he thought he could win a plurality in a three-way race and would spend $500 million — or less than 10 percent of his personal fortune.

A $1 billion campaign budget would wipe out many of the common obstacles faced by third-party candidates seeking the White House.

“Bloomberg is H. Ross Perot on steroids,” said former Federal Election Commission Chairman Michael Toner. “He could turn the political landscape of this election upside down, spend as much money as he wanted and proceed directly to the general election. He would have resources to hire an army of petition-gatherers in those states where thousands of petitions are required to qualify a third-party presidential candidate to be on the ballot.”

Senior Republican officials — including those supporting declared Republican presidential nomination contenders — and several top Democrats told The Times they take the possibility of a Bloomberg candidacy as a serious threat in November 2008.

The Bloomberg team is studying the strategies of Mr. Perot, the Texas billionaire whose 1992 presidential campaign helped President Clinton to win the White House with 43 percent of the popular vote.

“Mike has been meeting with Ross Perot’s most senior people about how they did an independent run in 1992,” the Bloomberg business adviser said on condition of anonymity so as to avoid appearing to speak for Mr. Bloomberg.

Talk of Mr. Bloomberg as a third-party candidate comes as Republican voters are deeply divided over their top-three declared candidates — Arizona Sen. John McCain, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — and are casting longing glances at former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

“Some of the people on McCain’s [presidential campaign] staff have been calling me to see if Mike is running because they are ready to leave the McCain campaign, which is a biplane on fire and spiraling down,” the Bloomberg adviser said.

Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, another independent-minded Republican, dined recently with Mr. Bloomberg and suggested on CBS’ “Face the Nation” over the weekend that he and Mr. Bloomberg might make an independent run for the presidency.

But in Albany, N.Y., yesterday, Mr. Bloomberg downplayed that suggestion.

“I think he was probably joking,” the mayor told reporters. Mr. Hagel “speaks his mind. … He’s not happy with the same things that I’m not happy about.”

Republicans who say they are girding for a Bloomberg entry note Mr. Bloomberg has a 68 percent share of his privately owned company, Bloomberg LP. The company is worth $20 billion (and about $30 billion if put on the block for public bidding) and earns $1.5 billion annually in after-tax profits.

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