Current New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today that he is resigning from the Republican party. Of course, more than one out of eight Republicans have also left the GOP since 2004 so it's hardly remarkable anymore that he is doing so.
However, in his case, it heightens speculation that he will run for President next year. Like Ross Perot (who got 19% of the vote in 1992) Bloomberg has hundreds of millions of dollars he could spend on a campaign, which alone makes him a viable candidate. Unlike Perot, he has already held elective office (the same office as Giuliani's highest in the past) and he isn't so nutty-- I have my disagreements with Michael Bloomberg but I can't see him accusing his opponents of sabotaging his daughter's wedding or quitting the race the moment he gets some bad news and then rejoining it later.
As a candidate, Bloomberg starts out with one big advantage.
And that advantage is one that the parties did to themselves. By failing to stop states from piling on with front loaded primaries. I blogged on the dangers of this headlong rush to the head of the line (Super-Duper Tuesday frought with peril) a couple of months ago, but failed then to consider what the effects might be of a third party candidacy. But supposing that the two major parties have nominations all locked up by February:
1. Bloomberg could then take his time and announce a run about mid summer. Because of his enormous personal financial resources he won't have to do much fundraising (and as I'm sure he would point out, wouldn't have to make any backroom deals to raise funds). He would be able to start with a complete warchest just as his two major party opponents were depleting theirs attacking each other between February and when the conventions start in late August and then having to try and raise more money for the general. And by July people will know all about the two nominees (and probably not like them) so Bloomberg would be a fresh face on the scene.
2. People are already weary of partisan politics. One effect of the nominees being known by February is that they will be driving up each other's negatives, and Bloomberg can pick his time and announce just when some partisan battle really drives up people's disgust with both parties.
3. Bloomberg, who has only had to run twice for Mayor (and then in elections largely focused on 9/11) has not had to define many of his positions on issues. Once it is known who the major party nominees are, he could carefully triangulate a platform that plays to issues where people are dissatisfied with both nominees. In particular, if Giuliani is the GOP nominee then look for Bloomberg to take a surprisingly conservative tack on cultural issues but if it is somebody else Bloomberg could define himself as the 'new' Giuliani and run to the center (as he did when he ran for Mayor.)
Now granted, no third party candidate has won for President since the modern two party system began. In fact, only once-- in 1912 when former President Teddy Roosevelt finished ahead of Republican William Howard Taft (but losing to Woodrow Wilson) has a third party candidate even managed to finish second. Also, without an existing party organization Bloomberg would face some stiff organizational challenges regardless of how much money he has, but he also-- largely thanks to the disastrous primary schedule that both major parties have allowed to happen-- could have all the advantages he would need to be successful.