Michael Bloomberg, the popular and hugely wealthy Mayor of New York, has finally put an end to speculation that he might make an independent run for the White House this year. Instead, he is promising to throw his support behind any candidate who takes a non-partisan and practical approach to solving America's problems.
Announcing his decision yesterday in a column in The New York Times, Mr Bloomberg wrote that after careful consideration: "I am not – and will not be – a candidate for president." But, he continued: "If a candidate takes an independent, non-partisan approach, and embraces practical solutions that challenge party orthodoxy, I'll join others in helping that candidate win."
Although the two-term Mayor had for months been careful not to rule out entering the race, his decision was widely expected, after the emergence of John McCain, the maverick Arizona senator, as the all-but-certain Republican nominee, and the growing likelihood that in November Mr McCain will face not the polarising Hillary Clinton, but Barack Obama, who has made bipartisanship a central tenet of his campaign.
Both Mr McCain and Mr Obama thus have strong appeal to the centrist and independent vote where Mr Bloomberg would have sought support. All along, moreover, he had insisted he would run only if he had a genuine chance of victory, and not as a spoiler. Assuming a McCain/Obama contest, he would almost certainly have been precisely that.
With Mr Bloomberg on the sidelines, the only noteworthy independent in the race will be the populist consumer advocate Ralph Nader, whose 2.7 per cent of the vote in 2000 is widely held responsible for the defeat of the Democratic candidate, Al Gore.
But in 2004 he captured only 0.4 per cent of the vote, and was not a factor in George Bush's victory over John Kerry. This time, he will do well to win even that tiny share of the vote, now that his signature issues such as the environment are high on the agendas of both mainstream parties.
Mr Bloomberg, however, would have been a different proposition. Although he was elected Mayor as a Republican – only to drop his party affiliation last year – he had previously been a lifelong Democrat.
By most reckonings he would have eaten disproportionately into the potential Democratic vote, in a year when independents are leaning heavily in that party's direction.
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