Republicans, while expressing some concern, generally think they have less to fear than Democrats from Michael R. Bloomberg if the popular New York City mayor mounts a third-party candidacy for president.
The Washington Times reported yesterday that friends of Mr. Bloomberg, whose personal fortune is $5.5 billion, has "set aside" and is prepared to spend an unprecedented $1 billion of his own money for a independent run for the White House.
Speaking to The Times only on the condition they not be named because they do not think they can speak publicly for the mayor, these friends said that he has told them he will make the run if he thinks he would have an effect on the policies and issues that will drive the 2008 presidential contest.
They say a Bloomberg candidacy would make it difficult for the Democratic nominee to win the electoral votes of New York, as well as of Connecticut and New Jersey. All are blue-state must-wins for the Democratic nominee, but not for the Republican standard-bearer, whoever he turns out to be.
"If Bloomberg and his people can pull together a serious run, it will allow some blue states to become very competitive for the GOP, such as New York, New Jersey and New Hampshire, maybe Colorado, Ohio -- and the Northeast in general," said New Hampshire-based Republican campaign strategist David Carney. Former Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Paul Goldman said that to make a serious bid for the Oval Office, Mr. Bloomberg needs the nation's political press to "see him as the moderate independent flanked by a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat."
"On the key voting issues, his social stances will tilt left; his economic- and foreign-policy views will lean slightly left; and his own governance record leans left," Mr. Goldman said.
Analysts and pollsters say there is no question President Bush's 537-vote margin in Florida in 2000 was affected by the Ralph Nader third-party candidacy that year. Mr. Nader played a smaller but still significant role in 2004. H. Ross Perot took 18.9 percent of the total 1992 vote, in an election that Bill Clinton won by five percentage points.
American Conservative Union Chairman David A. Keene says Mr. Bloomberg "probably would hurt the Democratic nominee" more than the Republican, especially if the New York mayor plays up his strong views in favor of gun-control laws, an issue that so far both major parties' presidential candidates "have taken off the table."
Most campaign professionals said that because Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Giuliani are liberal on social-policy issues, Mr. Bloomberg won't run if it becomes clear by early February that Mr. Giuliani will get the Republican nomination.
But a Republican who is a close friend -- but not a presidential supporter of his -- who has discussed the issue with Mr. Bloomberg said Mr. Bloomberg has enough lingering animosity for Mr. Giuliani that a Giuliani Republican nomination victory would not deter a Bloomberg third-party run. Some Republicans harken back to the first Perot candidacy.
"A Bloomberg candidacy is bad news for the GOP," California Republican campaign strategist Jon Fleishman said. "We already saw Bill Clinton win the presidency because of the Perot run."
Mr. Fleishman sees an upside for his team next year. "Republicans do have
one ace in the hole -- the candidacy of Hillary Clinton," he said. "If she is
the Democrat nominee, it seems like Bloomberg would really eat into her base,
as they are both from New York."