Like Al Gore, Mike Bloomberg could, with less than two-dozen syllables, put an abrupt and lasting end to White House speculation that he claims is wholly misplaced. But like Mr. Gore, he has adamantly refused to utter this simple, declarative sentence: “I have decided not to run for President in 2008.”
So he may very well run, and he certainly enjoys the speculation.
If he does run, Mr. Bloomberg will need to appoint running-mate, a task far more complex for independent candidates than for the Democratic and Republican nominees, since almost all established politicians belong to a party and most of them see jumping ship as career suicide.
What limited history there is confirms the difficulty Mr. Bloomberg would face in filling out his ticket.
There was Ross Perot, who twice ran for President and twice misfired with his running-mate choices. In 1992, he tabbed retired Admiral James Stockdale as a placeholder, simply to allow the Perot forces to complete the ballot access process while Mr. Perot searched for a full-time candidate. But after Mr. Perot dropped out of the race in July and re-entered in the fall, he was stuck with Mr. Stockdale, who mystified voters, many of whom were unaware of the extent of his Vietnam-era heroism, with his wobbly showing in a nationally-televised debate. And in ’96, as it became clear that his campaign would be a mere shadow of his ’92 effort, Mr. Perot was rebuffed by multiple prospects before turning, in desperation, to Dr. Pat Choate, an academic and economic nationalist who brought less than nothing to the doomed ticket.
Similar futility greeted John B. Anderson in 1980, when the liberal Republican Congressman bolted the Republican Party amid polls that showed him winning more than 20 percent of the vote in a three-way race. But his standing steadily eroded, and so too did the list of politicians willing to team up with him. In the end, Mr. Anderson chose the forgettable Patrick Joseph Lucey, a Democrat half-a-decade removed from Wisconsin’s governorship whose presence failed to reverse Mr. Anderson’s slide.
Then again, the Stockdale, Choate and Lucey selections are actually among the better third-party Vice-Presidential selections. In 2000, Pat Buchanan (first turned down by the now-imprisoned James Traficant) could do no better than Ezola Foster, who had lost a 1984 bid for a seat in the California state Assembly (her only prior campaign) and who was best known for her support of the L.A. police officers who beat Rodney King and her vengeful wrath for homosexuals. That same year, Ralph Nader, despite his decades in the public eye, settled for Winona LaDuke, a largely anonymous Native American activist. There’s also the case of George Wallace, who was paired in 1968 with former General Curtis LeMay, an unstable firebrand who advocated a nuclear attack on Vietnam.
Perhaps the only independent candidate to hit a running-mate home run is Theodore Roosevelt, who convinced a reluctant California Governor Hiram Johnson to join his Bull Moose ticket in 1912, a key reason TR carried the Golden State that year. Of course, Roosevelt had more candidates to choose from than his modern-day independent descendents: He took half the Republican Party with him when he left it.
At least Mr. Bloomberg, if he runs, has the potential to attract a top-tier leader to his ticket. Given his business and political credentials, his money, and (especially compared to Mr. Perot) his apparent stability, prospective VP’s will see in the mayor the not-entirely-unrealistic prospect of a third party candidacy that will have legs in October. For a certain class of politicians, joining forces might be a risk worth taking.
With that in mind, here is an initial (and very subjective) survey of names that could end up connected to Mr. Bloomberg’s in the VP guessing game: