While Hillary Clinton remains the Democratic frontrunner, Barack Obama’s poll numbers and incredible fund-raising suggest it won’t simply be a Clinton coronation.
The Republican race is wide open. Rudy Giuliani’s position has weakened as conservative voters have learned about his liberal social positions, particularly on abortion. John McCain’s stances on the Iraq War and the recent Immigration Bill have seriously damaged his candidacy. Mitt Romney’s focus on the early states is paying dividends, with Romney well placed to win Iowa and New Hampshire. Fred Thompson - of Law and Order fame - has emerged from nowhere to be a serious contender, already leading in some national polls.
But while the major party nomination contests heat up, the prospect of an independent candidacy from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to generate the most speculation.
Bloomberg, a fiscal conservative and social liberal, remains coy about his intentions, but speculation is rife. It has intensified in the last two months after reports that Bloomberg told friends he would consider a third-party run if he could influence the national debate - previously he maintained he would only run if he thought he could win a plurality in a three-way race.
In truth, Bloomberg would in all likelihood wait until February or March next year, when the major party nominees are clear, to make his decision. If the major parties nominate candidates that are likely to be divisive or polarising, that appeal more to their base than to moderates and independents, then Bloomberg has more room to move. Bloomberg is more likely to get into a race with Hillary Clinton and Romney or Thompson, than with Clinton and Giuliani.
If Bloomberg runs he would face an uphill battle. No third party candidate has won the White House since Abraham Lincoln. But even if Bloomberg’s candidacy fell short, it could profoundly influence the race.
Texas Billionaire Ross Perot garnered 19 per cent of the vote as an independent in 1992, helping Bill Clinton defeat President Bush with only 42 per cent of the vote.
Bloomberg could prove a much more potent force than Perot. Perot’s wealth enabled him to overcome the greatest obstacle to independent candidacies - finances. But Bloomberg’s wealth could actually provide him a substantial financial advantage over the major party nominees. And unlike Perot, who was reluctant to spend too much of his money, Bloomberg has shown he is willing to spend his own money to win office Sources close to Bloomberg say he is prepared to spend $1 billion of his personal fortune. This would mean Bloomberg could outspend his Democrat and Republican rivals.
Bloomberg’s politics appeals to independents and moderates of both parties. As mayor he has shown strong anti-terror credentials and kept New York safe. He has reduced crime levels, no mean feat given Giuliani’s previous accomplishments. He has demonstrated fiscal conservatism, resisting spending and tax pressures and keeping the budget balanced. He is a strong advocate of charter schools and educational standards.
These positions resonate with Republicans, many with moderate Democrats. His social views would find support amongst Democrats: Bloomberg is pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-gay rights, and pro-affirmative action.
A recent Rasmussen Report poll confirms the threat a Bloomberg candidacy would be to the major parties. The poll found 27 per cent of voters would be very or somewhat likely to vote for Bloomberg - before he has entered the race or spent any of that $1 billion.
A larger proportion, 39 per cent, indicated they would consider voting for Bloomberg in the right circumstances. This appears to include the situation where their preferred candidate appears unable to win. If it became clear the Republican candidate couldn’t win, 46 per cent of voters said they would opt for Bloomberg over Hillary Clinton (37 per cent). If the Democratic candidate couldn’t win, voters showed a similar preference for Bloomberg and Giuliani (34 and 35 per cent respectively). If Bloomberg could fight his way into second, or seriously dent one of the major party candidates, the dynamics could turn in his favour.
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