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Bloomberg: Third Party Spoiler Or Real Contender?

OPINION by D.G. Martin, Raleigh Chronicle Columnist
June 25, 2007

RALEIGH - "Don't waste your time writing about Michael Bloomberg!"

I wonder how my friend knew that I was getting swept away by the media attention that came to the mayor of New York when he switched his political affiliation from Republican to independent. Even though Bloomberg denies he is running for President, political commentators say he could be planning a third party run.

"Bloomberg could never get traction in North Carolina. He is divorced, Jewish, Wall Street insider, pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-gay rights, and he doesn't know how to talk like we do," my friend continued. "He wouldn't fit down here. And besides that he has zero charisma."

Even if Bloomberg were to get a much warmer reception in the rest of the country than my friend thinks he would get in North Carolina, American political history does not give much encouragement to third party candidates.

Mostly, they have been spoilers (like Ross Perot, who is credited with taking enough votes from George H.W. Bush to make Bill Clinton the President, or Ralph Nader, who took enough votes from Al Gore to make George W. Bush the President).

Or they have been distractions (like Strom Thurmond and Henry Wallace in 1948 or George Wallace in 1972).

Even popular former President Teddy Roosevelt could not come close to winning in 1916 when he ran on a third party ticket.

With all these things going against a Bloomberg candidacy, why can't I shake off this feeling that he might be a very big factor in next year's electionand perhaps a winner?

A presidential victory by a third party candidate would be a political earthquake. It would shake up everything and end, at least temporally, the total domination by the two major political parties.

But an earthquake should not be such a surprise. The underlying plates of politics have been rubbing up against each other recently. Polls indicate growing public dissatisfaction with the partisan president and the partisan congress. The country's unsolved problems cumulate, and the bipartisan effort that is required to achieve solutions seems to be a growing impossibility.

Meanwhile the political nominating processes seem to be forcing the candidates of both parties far out of the main steam and towards the less moderate and less tolerant political activists who try to insist on ideological purity for their party's candidates.

If the mainstream American public ever concludes that the two-party political system is not serving their needs, they will figure out a way to get rid of it, with or without Michael Bloomberg.

If, in 2008, the mainstream public is disenchanted enough with the two major parties to think about another option, Bloomberg's strengths as a presidential candidate would make him a compelling option.

First of all, he has the money to pay for a presidential campaign and would not have to spend the time, energy, and compromising issue adjustments that are expended in an ordinary presidential candidate's fundraising efforts. He could spend full time actually campaigning.

Secondly, he is a pragmatic, nonpartisan, cooperative leader. He has shown a willingness to tackle the toughest problems in New York and an ability to bring people from all parties to work out approaches that gain broad public support.

Thirdly, he can explain in a credible way what is worrying many Americans about their government. Here is what he said very recently:

"When you go to Washington now, you can feel a sense of fear in the air  the fear to do anything, or say anything, that might affect the polls, or give the other side an advantage, or offend a special interest.

"This is paralyzing our government  and it's leading our elected officials to push all the big, long-term problems onto future generations: health care, Social Security, budget deficits, global warming, immigration, you name it.

"Their inaction and partisan gridlock are destroying our relationships and reputation around the world.

"They are hurting our economic competitiveness, driving scientific and medical discoveries overseas, and jeopardizing our future as the land of hope and opportunity."

If that is the core of the message of a well-financed, experienced, credible, proven manager who is a third party candidate for the presidency in 2008, I would not bet against him, even in North Carolina.


D.G. Martin is the host of UNC-TV's North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs Sundays at 5:00 p.m. Check his blog and view prior programs at

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OPINION By D.G. Martin:
Mr. Martin is the host of UNC-TV's North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs on Sundays at 5:00 p.m.