(CNSNews.com) - Pundits speculating about the viability of an independent presidential campaign by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg agree he would have no chance of winning, but some argue that he could nonetheless have a significant impact on the race -- in part by opening it up to other third party hopefuls.
Traditionally, third party candidates' races have been fueled by personal charisma or a focus on an issue the major parties have not address or resolved. A Bloomberg run would be financed by his personal fortune, estimated at $5 billion, and likely rely on a strong media presence via paid ads.
Bloomberg's financial advantage is a "game changer" that "makes anything possible," Matt Lewis, director of operations for the conservative opinion hub Townhall.com, told Cybercast News Service Wednesday. "Throughout history, there have been times when crazy things happen in elections."
Lewis said that while he felt "it would be highly unlikely that a third-party candidate could win," the 2008 field could feature "four or five legitimate candidates who have the money, resources and support to have serious campaigns."
The ultimate winner could have as little as 30 percent of the popular vote, due to the fractured nature of the field, he said.
Lewis has speculated that a Bloomberg run would help third parties, as the "ice" of the two-party system would be effectively broken for the 2008 cycle.
In addition to Bloomberg, he said Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) could end up being nominated by the Libertarian or Constitution parties.
Paul resigned from the GOP in 1987, ran for president the following year as a Libertarian and won just under half of one percent of the popular vote. He later rejoined the Republican Party, and is one of 10 declared candidates for the party's 2008 presidential nomination.
Former Green Party nominee Ralph Nader has also been rumored to be considering another White House bid.
Brookings Institution scholar Stephen Hess dismissed speculation of a potential multi-party field. "There are no substantial third, fourth, or fifth parties waiting in the wings, hence no incipient multi-party European system in America's future," he told Cybercast News Service.
Hess said that although he does not believe Bloomberg will run in 2008, if he did so he would likely be "in the tradition of serious but unsuccessful independent candidates, a la Ross Perot."
Who would benefit?
Although Bloomberg has publicly stated that he will serve out the remainder of his term as mayor (his second term ends in 2009), commentators continue to assess a potential candidacy.
Former Republican and Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan wrote this week that due to Bloomberg's popularity in New York City, the first effect of his candidacy would be to take some two million New York votes from Democratic contender Sen. Hillary Clinton. This, he argued, would put New York, as well as New Jersey and Connecticut, "in play for the Republicans."
But Dr. John Fortier, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, disagreed.
"Most Democrats are satisfied with their candidates and unlikely to stray," he told Cybercast News Service Wednesday, adding that Bloomberg is also "not well-suited to attract populist anti-war, anti-trade, or anti-immigration voters who might be willing to bolt their parties."
Fortier said minor party candidates tend to attract people who would not have voted anyway. "I don't see many votes taken from the major parties, especially not from [the] Democrats."
He did, however, lend credence to the possibility of a Paul candidacy.
"Ron Paul is the only one who might strike a populist nerve, capitalizing on worries about immigration, dispirited Republicans, and libertarians worried about too much spending and too great a role for America in the world," Fortier said.
"I am not sure I expect him to get a huge vote, but he would have a following, especially if the Republican candidate is seen as weak."
If Sen. John McCain of Arizona ended up the GOP nominee, Fortier argued, "His views on immigration policy and his Washington establishment-image would provide the most incentive for disaffected conservatives to vote in protest for [Paul]."
U.S. News and World Report senior writer Michael Barone has argued that a Bloomberg candidacy would probably not be viable if the major party nominees ended up being Clinton or Barak Obama for the Democrats, and Rudy Giuliani or McCain heading the Republican ticket.
"A closer case comes if the culturally conservative [Republican] Fred Thompson or the increasingly shrilly left-wing [Democrat] John Edwards is a nominee," Barone said.
Lewis, however, contended that a Giuliani candidacy would favor Bloomberg. He said many social conservatives would stay at home or vote in protest against the GOP under those circumstances
On the other hand, Lewis said, Thompson was a candidate with whom Republican voters would be comfortable, even if he may not be their preferred choice.
Thompson, a former senator for Tennessee, early this month formed a committee to test the waters ahead of a possible 2008 presidential campaign.
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