As Democratic and Republican candidates race back and forth across the nation to compete in primary elections for the presidential nominations of their respective parties, political observers are also closely watching the movements of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. From VOA's New York Bureau, correspondent Barbara Schoetzau reports on the growing speculation that the billionaire mayor may finance his own non-partisan bid for the White House.

Recent news that Mayor Bloomberg has been conducting voter analyses in all 50 U.S. states has heightened rumors about his intentions. Bloomberg says he is not running, but chooses his words carefully and never completely rules out the possibility. His comments on a recent meeting with ballot access expert Clay Mulford, who ran the 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns of third party candidate Ross Perot, churned the rumor mill further.

"We talked about the political scene in the country. He has the view of a Texas resident and someone who had been involved in politics, and it was actually fascinating to listen to his views of the world," he said.

Third party candidates face an uphill race in the United States where two major parties have always dominated political discourse. Still, some observers believe that Bloomberg's huge bankroll and topnotch staff can overcome the obstacles. Andrew McRae is the founder of "Unite for Mike," a website dedicated to drafting Bloomberg as a presidential candidate.

"He's a proven manager. He's got great experience in both government and the private sector. He is bipartisan or even non-partisan. He really reaches across the lines and he focuses on results. I think at the end of the day his policies show that he is more interested in improving schools than he is interested in scoring points for a party," he said.

Bloomberg was a lifelong Democrat who changed parties in order to run for Mayor as a Republican in 2001. Last year, he changed his voter registration again, this time to Independent. Many believe the nation is ripe for a third party candidate, including Frank McKay the head of the Independent Party in New York State.

"This is a year like no other year. This is the first time since 1952 that neither major party is running an incumbent president or an incumbent vice president. Therefore, it is a wide-open field. Mayor Bloomberg has the experience, has the credibility, has the financial wherewithal to take this and really make a successful presidential run if he decides to run," he said.

McKay says if the Mayor accepted the Independent Party's nomination, he would be his "own man," not beholden to the party or any special interests. The Independent Party's nomination would guarantee Bloomberg that he would appear on the ballot in all 50 states.

Douglas Muzzio, a public affairs professor at New York's Baruch College, has watched Bloomberg since the beginning of his political career. The Mayor, he says, is essentially a pro-business Democrat.

"If you look at the so-called litmus test issue, Mike Bloomberg comes out colored Democrat on all of those issues whether it is stem cell research, abortion rights, gay rights, immigration. Those issues he tends to be socially liberal and much like the Democratic candidates. What he brings beyond that is this business orientation toward government, this reliance on competence, the delivery of services and his bipartisanship," he said.

In public addresses and informal comments, the Mayor increasingly focuses on the deadlock in Washington and the issues he says the current candidates are not discussing.

"How do you feed those that are still starving? How do your fight terrorism and stop wars? All this 'I am going to be tougher than the next guy' is not an answer to what you would do. How do you have a cogent policy that expands and at the same time protects? We have to do something about our borders. It is no one candidate. Don't say 'Okay, Bloomberg is criticizing A, B or C on either side. It's all of them," he said.

But the mayor has skillfully avoided discussion of some other controversial issues, such as the war in Iraq. That will have to change, according to Doug Muzzio, if Bloomberg intends to make a serious race for the White House.

"The statements on Iraq and terror have been of the most general kind. Talking about not talking about the important issues, Mike Bloomberg certainly has not talked about the most important issues. But why would one expect the mayor of the city of New York to do it? You would expect a presidential candidate but not necessarily the Mayor," he said.

In the 1992 presidential race, Ross Perot won 19 percent of the vote as an Independent. Doug Muzzio says Bloomberg can probably do better and make history by winning the biggest vote for a third party candidate ever. But Muzzio says the complicated way state electors are chosen makes a third party victory almost impossible.

Many political analysts say Bloomberg's decision will be determined by which candidates are ahead after Americans go to the polls in primary elections in two dozen states on February 5. They say if candidates who are anti-business or anti-immigration take the lead, Bloomberg is more likely to try to make history.