New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg insists he’s not going to run for president in 2012.
But Monday’s launch of a new movement called Nolabels.org – an effort to get beyond the hyperpartisanship that infuses Washington – can’t help but keep the “will Bloomberg run” question alive. The day-long rollout was held in New York City, and Mayor Bloomberg, a political independent, was a marquee participant. And Nolabels’ centrist approach to policy fits his own message, laid out just last week in a campaign-style speech on the economy. The billionaire Bloomberg’s willingness to self-fund as a politician has been amply demonstrated in his three successful runs for New York mayor, and he reportedly considered running for president in 2008.
Some media coverage has suggested that Nolabels could become a ready-made vehicle for a Bloomberg candidacy, should he decide to run. But people associated with the group insist there’s no hidden Bloomberg agenda in the group’s founding.
“This is not a Bloomberg organization; it was not conceived as such, and is not,” says a Nolabels spokesman, speaking on background.
The group has raised $1 million in seed money from “hundreds and hundreds of donors across the country,” he says, but “not a penny” from Bloomberg.
Still, none of that rules out the possibility that Bloomberg could change his mind at some point about running or that Nolabels could provide the organizational structure Bloomberg would need to mount a campaign in all 50 states. Nolabels plans to set up chapters in all 435 congressional districts and on college campuses across the country. Depending on how President Obama fares over the next year, and who the Republican Party looks set to nominate for the 2012 presidential race, Bloomberg could jump in.
“Bloomberg isn’t running, unless there’s a popular call that he can’t ignore,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “He does not generally forcelose options.”
In the past, Bloomberg has reportedly made clear he is not interested in running just to be a spoiler. He would run if he saw a path to victory. That didn’t materialize in 2008. In 2012, if Mr. Obama is still weakened by the economy, and it looks as if the Republicans might put up a polarizing figure like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Bloomberg might see his opening.
“Bloomberg is a very sophisticated guy, who does not throw money out windows,” says Jillson. “So if it didn’t look like there was room to run a draw play up the middle successfully, he wouldn’t spend the money. He’d have to spend half a billion [dollars]. Even for Bloomberg, that’s real money.”
In the modern era, some third-party presidential candidacies have made a big splash, but only ended up hurting the candidate of the incumbent party. Eccentric self-funder Ross Perot won 19 percent of the vote in 1992, helping to deprive President George H.W. Bush of a second term and electing Bill Clinton.
In contrast with Mr. Perot, Bloomberg would start with considerable experience in elective office, albeit as mayor of New York – not a typical stepping stone to the White House. But Bloomberg would bring financial savvy and more than 10 years of executive government experience to the table.
Bloomberg’s economic speech last week seemed ready made for the Nolabels movement. He complained about how both parties in Washington, and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, have put partisan advantage over solutions, and suggested that his successes in New York City could be adapted nationally.
“Last month, voters turned against Democrats in Washington for the same reason they turned against Republicans in 2006,” Bloomberg said. “Democrats now, and Republicans then, spent more time and energy conducting partisan warfare than forging centrist solutions to our toughest economic problems.”