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January 8, 2008

Bye Bye, Bloomie

The coy dance played by Michael Bloomberg regarding a potential independent bid for the presidency took a stumble yesterday. The New York City mayor conducted a forum yesterday with a panel of moderate politicians from both parties to condemn partisanship, an event expected to raise his profile for a national campaign. Instead, his guests took pains to inform the press that they intended to work within their own parties -- and the rise of Barack Obama made everyone else less enthusiastic for a billionaire outside bid:

He arrived here for what seemed like it could be a big moment. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, eyeing a third-party presidential bid, joined Republican and Democratic elders at a forum to denounce the extreme partisanship of Washington and plot how to influence the campaign.

But even as the mayor gathered on Monday with the seasoned Washington hands on the campus of the University of Oklahoma, the surging presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama seemed to steal energy from the event and set off worry elsewhere among Mr. Bloomberg’s supporters.

Mr. Obama has stressed that he wants to move beyond gridlocked politics and usher in an era of national unity. A key organizer of the effort to draft Mr. Bloomberg for a presidential run acknowledged in an interview on Monday that that Mr. Obama’s rise could be problematic.

Obama's tone on the campaign trail does leave Bloomberg without firm footing in the race. In fact, it magnifies the problem that both Obama and Bloomberg have -- neither one want to engage in much policy discussion. Why not? Talking policy means taking positions on issues -- and that means disagreement, criticism, and an end to generic, amorphous feel-good lines about ending "partisanship".

While the Times may focus on that aspect of the event yesterday, the real story was how even the organizers of the event distanced themselves from Bloomberg. Sam Nunn, the former Democratic Senator and maybe the last Scoop Jackson Democrat save for Joe Lieberman, told reporters that he intends to endorse a Democrat for President. Christine Todd Whitman said she will remain a Republican and support a Republican in the general election.

Democrats have more reason to worry over a Bloomberg bid. While Bloomberg is registered as a Republican, he made that change in 2001 largely as a means to avoid a brutal primary race among the Democrats. He believes himself to be a "progressive centrist", but his nanny-state policies in NYC have made national headlines. Bloomberg's appeal will not draw from Republicans anywhere near as much as from Democrats, and he could wind up being their Ross Perot.

When someone puts on a splashy party and the organizers openly talk about how they wish they could attend a different one, that's an indication that the party is a flop. Bloomberg should save the billion dollars he'd have to spend and focus on the job he already has.


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