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N.Y. Mayor Bloomberg Leaves GOP

Michael Bloomberg, addressing a conference in Los Angeles, said he intends to serve out his mayoral term.
Michael Bloomberg, addressing a conference in Los Angeles, said he intends to serve out his mayoral term. (By Reed Saxon -- Associated Press)

"Now both parties will have to address what a Bloomberg candidacy means for them," said New York-based Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf. He said Bloomberg's success as a businessman and mayor could offer voters a starkly different alternative to the major parties. "What he may represent is a break from both political parties."

One consultant predicted that a Bloomberg candidacy could hurt the Republicans, including Bloomberg's predecessor, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. "The market for billionaire businessmen is basically with soft Republican voters, and so he is likely to help the Democrats if he runs," the consultant said.

Others have suggested Bloomberg will appeal to independent voters who backed Democrats in droves in the 2006 midterm elections.

Former New York governor Mario M. Cuomo, who famously considered and then ruled out a presidential bid of his own, speculated that Bloomberg might make a different choice than he did. "The only explanation I can think of is to make it more possible for him to run for president," Cuomo said of the mayor's announcement. "He doesn't want to be the governor; he can't be the mayor again; he's too young to be retired; he doesn't need to work at making a living; he is good at public service -- no, he's excellent at public service -- and so I'm sure he would enjoy being president."

The announcement takes Bloomberg a significant step closer to an independent run. But those familiar with his thinking say no decision is likely before early next year, after it becomes clear whom the two major-party candidates are going to be.

His advisers say he is likely to jump in only if a series of factors align properly: general dissatisfaction in the country, a willingness to vote for an independent, and the relative standing of the two candidates chosen by the major political parties early next year.

Recent polls show that 70 percent of Americans or more say the country is off track. That creates a climate that some Bloomberg associates believe makes an independent candidacy more viable.

But if one or both major-party nominees emerge from the primaries with solid approval ratings, Bloomberg might not be tempted to run. And if Giuliani wins the Republican nomination, Bloomberg and his advisers believe that it will be difficult for another New York mayor to put himself forward, to say nothing of the possibility that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton could win the Democratic nomination and add another New Yorker to the mix.

"This is another way to just continue the speculation and to test it," Sheinkopf said. "This is another trial balloon. And if it doesn't blow up, you'll see another trial balloon."

As daunting as the prospects are for any third-party candidate, including the challenge of getting on the ballot in all 50 states, Bloomberg associates think he could run a non-ideological campaign built around the theme of competence and unity.

To do that, he could offer himself as a candidate to a group called Unity 08, which will hold a citizens convention in July 2008 to pick a blended ticket that could include an independent, a Republican or a Democrat. One rumored -- or perhaps wished-for -- ticket would pair Bloomberg with maverick GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

"The mayor's move is certainly consistent with the notion of what we're tying to do," said Doug Bailey, the co-founder of Unity 08. "The political system is broken. The public knows that. They know also that this is the most important election in their lifetime. They are looking for leadership that can bring the two parties together and solve critical problems before the country."

Staff writers Dan Balz, Anne E. Kornblut and Sonya Geis and political researcher Zachary A. Goldfarb contributed to this report.

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