New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg caused a political stir this week with his decision to leave the Republican Party to become an unaffiliated independent. Bloomberg's move has fueled speculation that he might run as an independent candidate for president next year. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
Bloomberg is popular in New York but not well known nationally. But there are some political experts who believe his conservative approach to spending public money combined with more liberal social views could appeal to centrist voters in next year's election.
At a recent news conference, Bloomberg insisted that he intends to finish out his second term as mayor that runs until 2009.
But he also seemed to leave open the possibility of involvement in national politics sometime in the near future.
"But I am confident that this country will have options," Bloomberg said. "I do think that the more people that run for office, the better."
Public opinion polls at the moment show a large majority of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track and that many people have tired of the political bickering that has dominated Washington in recent years.
Bloomberg says one of his major concerns is that important issues like pension reform and environmental safeguards have been given little attention because of the political partisanship in Washington.
"I do not think that we are addressing those issues," he said. "I am particularly upset that the big issues of the time keep getting pushed to the back and we focus on small things that only inside the [Washington] beltway are important."
New York-based political consultant Joseph Mercurio says Bloomberg's decision to cast himself as an independent could set the stage for a third party challenge for the White House in 2008.
"I think this is pretty clear that he is certainly keeping his option open to run as a candidate for president," he said. "He did it because there are some states that require you not to be a Democrat or a Republican when you file independent nominating petitions."
If he decided to run as an independent, Bloomberg would most likely try to appeal to a large group of discontented voters in the middle of the political spectrum who find the two major political parties too polarizing.
Bloomberg could also tap into his considerable personal fortune, worth billions of dollars, to finance his bid for the White House.
"This is somebody who has a great deal of his own money and somebody who would run, theoretically, as not a Democrat, not a Republican, somebody who is going to come in and address folks in the middle who feel they are frustrated with what they are getting from either side," said Amy Walter, editor of the Hotline political newsletter and a guest on the C-SPAN public affairs cable television network.
Some Democrats fear an independent presidential bid by Bloomberg would draw votes from the Democratic Party's presidential nominee and could help the Republicans in the general election in November of 2008.
If Bloomberg decided to join the race, he would be the third prominent New Yorker to launch a bid for the White House.
It is a source of pride and amusement for some long time New York political observers like Maurice Carroll, who now directs the polling institute at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.
"As a former New York reporter who still stays in touch with New York politics, I have to wonder. Suppose the Republicans nominated [former New York City Mayor Rudy] Giuliani and the Democrats nominate Mrs. Clinton, both obviously with a lot of support if they get nominated but also with big negatives," Carroll said. "Could Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City run as an independent? It has never worked before, but hey [you never know]."
The recent history of third party presidential candidates suggests Bloomberg would be taking on a long shot challenge if he decided to run.
Independent candidate Ross Perot received 19 percent of the popular vote in the 1992 race won by Bill Clinton over then President George H.W. Bush. But Perot failed to win a single vote in the electoral college that decides presidential elections.