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Bloomberg in spotlight at bipartisanship summit

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NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg turned up the volume on a possible independent bid for president yesterday, arguing that partisanship is limiting the nation's progress at a summit of Republicans and Democrats that stole a bit of the spotlight from the candidates in New Hampshire.

What with talk about Washington riven by partisanship, Mr. Bloomberg gathered with some current elected officials, others out of office for years to discuss bridging the divide between the two parties. The summit took place on the eve of the first-in-the-nation primary.

"People have stopped working together, government is dysfunctional, there's no collaborating and congeniality," Mr. Bloomberg said to applause from the crowd. "America is being held back," he said.

The panel also included Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican who often is mentioned as an ideal running mate for Mr. Bloomberg.

"Every one of us in this group this morning believes there are opportunities to turn things around for our country, our future, our children, the world," Mr. Hagel said.

A long line of people — students, political junkies and Bloomberg backers — stretched down the street before the event began.

"The opportunity to remove partisan politics from the dialogue is a wonderful idea," said Dennis Ryan, 74, a lawyer from Oklahoma City.

But the national media who traveled to Oklahoma University, and some in the crowd of about 1,000, were there to see Mr. Bloomberg. The multibillionaire mayor, a one-time Democrat, switched his party affiliation from Republican to independent last summer, increasing the political chatter about a potential third-party bid for the presidency.

Some of the event's organizers have bluntly billed the gathering as a warning to the major-party candidates that they are prepared to back an independent candidate — someone like Mr. Bloomberg — if they do not see more cooperation among the declared contenders.

Several candidates, including Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee, already have made bipartisanship part of their campaign messages.

The group in Oklahoma spent several hours Sunday night and yesterday morning drafting a joint statement about the urgency of drawing the parties to work together in addressing issues such as health care, climate change, homeland security and the economy. It urged the presidential candidates to provide "clear descriptions of how they would establish a government of national unity," and "specific strategies for reducing polarization and reaching bipartisan consensus."

Asked what he would do if the candidates did not respond, Mr. Bloomberg demurred. "I think all the members of the panel are optimistic that the candidates will listen to us and will understand that there is a deep need in this country and a deep desire among the electorate to have the candidates face the issues," he said.

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