(CNSNews.com) - New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has left the Republican Party and has changed his voting status to "unaffiliated," further fueling speculation that he may run for president.
"A nonpartisan approach has worked wonders in New York," Bloomberg said in a statement. "We've balanced budgets, grown our economy, improved public health, reformed the school system and made the nation's safest city even safer."
"As a political independent, I will continue to work with those in all political parties to find common ground, to put partisanship aside and to achieve real solutions to the challenges we face," he added.
A lifelong Democrat, Bloomberg switched to the Republican Party in 2000 prior to his first run for mayor. He succeeded Republican Rudy Giuliani, who is currently running for the 2008 presidential nomination.
Although administering New York City as a Republican, the liberal Bloomberg has held positions outside of the GOP mainstream, supporting abortion rights, same-sex "marriage," embryonic stem cell research and tighter gun control. He also raised taxes to solve New York City's fiscal crisis after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Bloomberg recently proposed an anti-poverty program that would reward poor residents for such "good behavior" as getting a library card, going to the dentist, having their children pass certain school tests or holding down a full-time job.
Despite his positions, Bloomberg is a popular mayor. A May 23 Quinnipiac University poll gave him a 74 percent approval rating.
"Mayor Mike is on a run that just won't quit, with another 70-plus approval rating," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Not only do they like the job Bloomberg is doing now, many New Yorkers would like him to do it for four more years, even though term limits won't let him."
Bloomberg, a businessman whose personal fortune is estimated at $5 billion dollars, spent $70 million of his own money to bankroll his first mayoral campaign in 2001, and another $85 million to achieve his landslide reelection victory in 2005.
His second term as mayor ends in 2009, and there has been speculation that he may be thinking about a run for the White House.
Recently, Bloomberg has spent a significant amount of time outside of New York City, traveling to New Hampshire and California.
While in California, Bloomberg toured the campus of Google, Inc., which four other 2008 White House hopefuls already have visited. He told reporters he had no plans to run for president as an independent, but did say he would reach out to both political parties as mayor.
But while speaking at Google, he sounded very much like a presidential candidate.
"Whoever out of those 20 [Democratic and Republican candidates] becomes president I think has to do something about a country that I think is really in trouble," he said. "There's the war, there is our relationships around the world. Our reputation has been hurt very badly in the last few years.'
If Bloomberg does decide to run as an independent, some political pundits believe he will hurt Democrats more than Republicans.
"If they [Democrats and Republicans] nominate broadly acceptable candidates, he won't run," said Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "However, [if] they nominate ideological or unpopular candidates, he may indeed run."
Sabato said Bloomberg's political strength is in the Northeast and Pacific region, including California - states that are traditionally Democrat and where a Bloomberg independent campaign could siphon votes from the Democratic candidate and give an edge to the Republican nominee.
In New York City, the prospect of the mayor running for president drew mixed reaction.
"I think he's been a great mayor," New York City resident Jason Mendelson said in Times Square on Tuesday. "I'd definitely vote for him if he ran for mayor again, but I wouldn't vote for him to be president."
"I'm voting for Barack [Obama] so even if he [Bloomberg] runs I wouldn't vote for him," said Simone Brown of the Bronx. "He's a good mayor though -- a lot better than Giuliani."
The last major third-party candidate for president was Ross Perot, who in 1992 spent $65 million of his personal fortune to run, winning almost 19 percent of the popular vote but not a single electoral vote.
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