Bloomberg: If I Did It

It is a full year before civilians like myself should really be bothered about the 2008 Presidential election, and I’m already sick of it. I’m sick of Rudy, sick of Hilary, and in particular I’m sick of Mayor Bloomberg’s independent non-campaign. Now comes word from the Mayor’s “friends” that he plans to run, spending up to $1 billion, (gasp!), if he merely believes he can “influence the national debate.” Although this is way outside my area of expertise, with everyone writing about nothing else it seems, if I have to listen to it I might as well put my two cents in. If the Mayor wants to come up with a plan for a theoretical campaign he isn’t guilty of, I believe he shouldn’t run by himself in a reprise of the Perot, Nader and Golisano 15 minutes of fame. That would strike many as an ego trip. Instead he should recruit independent candidates for the House of Representatives throughout the country, who agree with his platform and agree to vote in a block for Speaker if they win, to run with him. Win enough seats to swing control of that body, and he’d really be in a position to “influence the national debate.”

This is, in some ways, a retread idea for me. It’s what I thought Golisano should have done. It’s what Suozzi did when he wasn’t running for Governor, for which I’m grateful, and didn’t do when he did run for Governor, which I thought was a mistake.

A third party candidate for President has to get around the fact that the Republican and Democratic parties are already planning to present the American people with an actual choice in November 2008. Some people don’t like the two party system, but most are satisfied with it or, in the wake of Nader/Buchanan in 2000, at least afraid to “waste their vote” by going the independent route, especially in states where the vote might actually matter.

A two-party system isn't the problem. The problem is yhe one-party system, with no primaries, that most of us face for elections to the House of Representatives and state legislature.

Here is where someone like Bloomberg could do some good, by targeting one-party districts for some electoral competition. I’m no Rock Hackshaw when it comes to political strategy, but it seems to me that if a Presidential Campaign would cost $1 billion, a Presidential plus Congressional campaign could also cost $1 billion. The Congressional candidates would be listed on the same petition forms, and could be presented in the same advertisements. Money and effort would have to be expended on recruitment and background checks, but this would be offset by the free media asset of having campaigners carrying one’s banner around the country. Moreover, voters who want change but don’t want to miss a chance to affect the Presidential vote by voting for Bloomberg could endorse his proposals by voting for his candidates. And if his candidates won enough votes, and a few elections, then the campaign wouldn't be a waste, a joke and an embarrassment no matter how few votes he got.

The Mayor could hand-select these candidates to be, as a group, more qualified, more representative and more honest than the political average, with fewer lawyers and political staffers and more people form other walks of life. The candidates could be presented in groups media market by media market, along with the platform they agreed to endorse. (They could be free to express their personal views on other issues on their own dime, and to vote their own way on other questions if elected). Even if they didn’t’ get elected, Bloomberg’s candidates might put the fear of voters into a few politicians who had been assuming a lifetime sinecure.

Moreover, while it is true that having a Presidential candidate, as opposed to a Mayor, leading the group might attract more attention, Bloomberg really doesn’t have to run for President to attract and back candidates for Congress. He could spend one-third as much and do that.

Of course, to adopt this strategy Bloomberg would have to have a clear idea what he most wanted to see change, and find people committed to helping him change it. That is a different mentality than a simple conviction that “I should be in charge.” But it is also more realistic. Though unlikely, it might be at least possible that in a bad economic year, with more and more people upset about Republican lack of fiscal and environmental responsibility and Democratic slavery to special interests and sound bites, to help elect enough people to the House of Representatives to swing that body. Winning enough states outright as an independent Presidential candidate to swing the Electoral College just isn’t going to happen.