Tuesday, June 19, 2007

President Bloomberg? ...Hmmm....

Bloomberg Move Fuels '08 Buzz
By JOHN D. MCKINNON; June 20, 2007; Wall Street Journal

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision to leave the Republican Party fueled talk he might launch an independent bid for president later this year. It also underscored Republicans' dim prospects for 2008, and pointed to broader concerns about both parties' performance.
In a statement, the mayor again suggested he has no plans to run for president. He said he was merely matching his party registration with his nonpartisan policies, an apparent effort to distance himself from the rancor that has marked U.S. politics in recent years.

"Although my plans for the future haven't changed, I believe this brings my affiliation into alignment with how I have led and will continue to lead our city," Mr. Bloomberg said.

But he hinted that he thinks his nonpartisan formula could be replicated to produce success in other jobs. "A nonpartisan approach has worked wonders in New York," he added. "Any successful elected executive knows that real results are more important than partisan battles and that good ideas should take precedence over rigid adherence to any particular political ideology. Working together, there's no limit to what we can do."

Mr. Bloomberg's announcement came while he was making a West Coast tour that bore the hallmarks of a campaign swing. In a speech Monday at Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters -- a frequent stop for presidential candidates in recent months -- he declared: "I think the country is in trouble." He blasted inaction on immigration and education, while criticizing the announced candidates for pandering in the debates.

Yesterday, Mr. Bloomberg held a conference on nonpartisanship with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who has scored political successes by reaching out to Democrats for consensus on knotty issues like climate change and health care.

Mr. Bloomberg's party change "certainly reinforces his appeal to Americans as an independent," said Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at New York University. With neither party able to point to successes on key issues like immigration, "this allows him much greater freedom," Mr. Moss said.

In fact, voter unease with the status quo has been one of the most noticeable features of the political landscape. In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll7, the Republican Party's image reached its lowest positive rating since the beginning of tracking in 1990.

But both parties came in for voters' disdain. The Democratic-controlled Congress got a 23% approval rating, and only 29% among Democrats. Just 19% of adults said the country was "headed in the right direction," a level that comes close to the 14% all-time low recorded in July of 1992, when another independent candidate for president, Ross Perot, had a big impact.

That suggests voters might be attracted to the idea of changing not just the person occupying the Oval Office but also the whole system of choosing between Republicans and Democrats. New York politics in recent years could be a reflection of the change -- in a city where Democrats hold roughly a 5-to-1 registration edge, voters have chosen Republicans continuously since 1993, starting with Rudy Giuliani.

Still, victory as an independent has proved elusive, and Mr. Bloomberg has publicly questioned whether Americans would support a short, divorced Jewish man for president. But voters of all stripes have shown a lack of deep commitment to any of the current candidates. If anything, the Republican field has become more muddled, as Sen. John McCain of Arizona has slipped, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has enjoyed a modest boost, and unannounced candidate Fred Thompson, an actor and former Tennessee senator, has scored well in early polling.

Mr. Bloomberg could draw from current supporters of moderate Republican candidates, particularly Mr. Giuliani. But he also could galvanize the large and growing ranks of independents.

Write to John D. McKinnon at john.mckinnon@wsj.com8

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