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:
Chuck Hagel: This is the most obvious one. The 60-year-old Nebraska Republican, a decorated Vietnam veteran, has, thanks to his blunt critiques of the Iraq war, supplanted his old friend John McCain as every Democrat’s favorite Republican (and a media darling). He’s still somewhat anonymous to voters across the country, but Mr. Hagel’s story and style suggest enormous appeal to independent voters, and his alienation from his party’s leadership (Nebraska Republicans are threatening to deny him re-nomination for a third term next year) meshes well with Mr. Bloomberg’s message that party politics are broken. Mr. Hagel and Mr. Bloomberg actually met for dinner recently, and afterwards Mr. Hagel voluntarily speculated on national television about a Bloomberg-Hagel ticket in ’08. If Mr. Bloomberg runs and Mr. Hagel wants in, it is tough to imagine the mayor doing any better than this. Bottom-line: His for the taking?
Joe Lieberman: The Connecticut Senator has to be mentioned because of his current independent status and because Mr. Bloomberg invested considerable political and financial capital in backing his independent Senate campaign last year. To some, Mr. Lieberman is a symbol of Democratic intolerance and political dysfunction, a good man driven from his party for refusing to subordinate his conscience to the party line. But that is far from a universal view. To many more, Mr. Lieberman is the inexplicably stubborn defender of a war that has lost the confidence of 70 percent of the public. Not much is known about Mr. Bloomberg’s own Iraq views. And rest assured, those who are fed up with this will demand (and probably are already demanding) an explanation for his fervent backing of Mr. Lieberman. But even if Mr. Bloomberg is somewhat sympathetic to the Senator’s view, choosing him as a running-mate would be a divisive gesture and one that would define the Bloomberg-Lieberman ticket in terms of the war – probably not a winning strategy in ’08. Bottom-line: He’s got a better chance of being McCain’s VP
Colin Powell: There a million reasons not to list him here, chief among them his well-established aversion to jumping into electoral politics (the party’s 1996 presidential nomination and ’96 and 2000 V.P. nominations were his if he’d wanted them). And the retired General’s political stock has dropped these last few years, the result of his decision to put his reservations aside and make the Bush administration’s now-discredited case for the Iraq war at the United Nations in 2003. General Powell, who quit as Secretary of State after the ’04 election, has all but said he feels used by the Bush administration and even the Republican Party, which he very publicly joined in 1995. He recently revealed that he’s been providing foreign policy briefings to Barack Obama. General Powell is damaged goods, but still a fairly popular one. He is at least worth mentioning here because he’s also a proud man, and a break with the GOP to join an independent ticket would provide him with an incomparable platform for redemption – and a potentially receptive audience among Americans who feel that they, too, were duped on the war. (How many of them blame General Powell for duping them is another question). Still, he’d unquestionably be a plus for a Bloomberg ticket, given the abiding respect Americans still have for him and his story. Bottom-line: A very long-shot, but easier to see him saying yes to Bloomberg than to Bush or Dole.
David Boren: Conservative columnist Robert Novak entered Boren’s name into the Veepstakes last weekend, and on the surface, the pairing would make some sense. Boren, a 66-year-old conservative Oklahoma Democrat from an era when conservative Democrats fared well in his neck of the woods, has experience as a Congressman (8 years), Governor (4 years), and U.S. Senator (16 years), not to mention his run as the University of Oklahoma’s President for the past dozen years. The son of a Senator (and the father of current Oklahoma Congressman Dan Boren), Boren was the subject of presidential speculation for much of his political career, something he readily encouraged (even as he passed up golden opportunities to pursue his party’s nomination in 1988 and 1992). And, supposedly, Ross Perot offered him the Number Two spot on the Reform Party ticket in 1996. But, as much as he likes having his name out there, you can probably dismiss Boren as a serious prospect. The odd circumstances of his abrupt, middle-of-the-term departure from the Senate in 1994 left unanswered questions, which he’s been able to dodge at OU – but that he would be forced to confront if he re-entered elected politics. Bottom-line: Scratch him
Sam Nunn: The 68-year-old Georgian served 24 years in the U.S. Senate, chairing the Armed Services Committee and carving out a reputation as one of his party’s leading authorities on defense issues. He has largely been absent from the public eye since his retirement in 1996, although his name did pop up in connection with potential Cabinet posts when Al Gore and John Kerry ran for President. To a Bloomberg-led ticket, Mr. Nunn would bring the foreign policy command and credibility that Mr. Bloomberg now lacks. He would also provide regional balance, and his moderate-to-conservative ideology could play well in the South, where Mr. Bloomberg would be expected to struggle. Mr. Nunn would be a solid, reassuring pick, one who wouldn’t cause many headaches for the mayor. But it’s unrealistic to expect his presence would swing any southern states to the ticket, and given his prolonged absence from the public stage, he’s hardly a brand name to average Americans. Bottom-line: Not the first choice, but Bloomberg could do much worse.
Bob Kerrey: Friendly descriptions of the former Nebraska Senator and Governor (and current New School President and New York resident) label him “independent,” but his unpredictability could just as easily be called capricious. Kerrey, who lost part of his leg in Vietnam and sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, has been all over the political map, frustrating his friends and allies with his seemingly-random changes of heart, whether on policy matters or in terms of his career plans. In 2005, out of nowhere, he told the New York Times that while he has been filling out his tax returns he began thinking about running for mayor of New York, even though he was mostly satisfied with Mr. Bloomberg’s first term performance. That notion, like so many of Mr. Kerrey’s, quickly came and went. Lately, he’s even suggested he might return to Nebraska to run for the Senate should his friend Mr. Hagel decline to run for re-election next year. Still, the 63-year-old Mr. Kerrey’s Vietnam service, maverick reputation, and often blunt outspokenness make him attractive the very independent voters Mr. Bloomberg’s bid would rely on. He’d probably have to change his residence to run (presidential electors are forbidden from voting for a President and Vice-President from the same state), but Mr. Kerrey would at least bring some color and a touch of star power to the ticket. But who knows if he’d really want it? Bottom-line: He likes the attention, but can’t see him saying yes if he’s asked
Bill Bradley: The former New Jersey Senator seemed to disappear after his 2000 presidential bid crumbled, but he re-emerged recently with a new book, “The New American Story,” that presents something of a post-partisan, independent-friendly vision of the country’s future. “Dollar Bill,” with his pro basketball past and long-standing discomfort with most of the powerful forces in his own party, has always been a favorite of independent voters. Three times – in 1984, 1988 and 1992 – he passed up presidential campaigns when the Democratic nomination seemed to be waiting for him. His primary liability is that his low-key manner borders on lifeless or, worse, aloof. Still, he remains a brand name in American politics. Bottom-line: Would be a good-to-terrific pick, but didn’t he take enough abuse in 2000?
Angus King: Angus who? Mr. King was elected as an independent to two terms as Governor of Maine, one of the most independent-friendly states in the country, serving from 1995 until 2003. For the most part, he bridged divides between the two parties in his home state, racking up a string of popular achievements and winning his 1998 re-election bid resoundingly. Of the three independent Governors elected over the last two decades – Lowell Weicker of Connecticut and Jesse Ventura in Minnesota are the others – Mr. King is the only one who’d be a realistic addition to a Bloomberg ticket. On the down side, he’s unknown to most everyone outside of northern New England. Bottom-line: A serviceable choice if the big boys (and girls, maybe) say no.
William Cohen: The 66-year-old Republican has already demonstrated a willingness to break ranks: After leaving the Senate in 1996, he joined the Clinton administration as Defense Secretary. In the Senate, where he served three terms, he hewed to moderate tradition of Yankee Republicanism, mixing liberal social attitudes with moderate-to-conservative economic views. That independent track record, coupled with his foreign policy credentials, would make Mr. Cohen a solid addition to a Bloomberg ticket. On the flip side, his public personality tends toward the underwhelming. And given his time away from politics and government, his name probably doesn’t mean much to most voters. Bottom-line: The press would love the pick, but would the public care much?
Jim Leach: To C-Span viewers, the former Iowa congressman, defeated in one of the biggest surprises in the 2006 elections, is a well-known figure. To the other 299 million or so Americans, he is anonymous. But Mr. Leach, the most liberal Republican in the House at the time of his defeat, would probably fit well with Mr. Bloomberg. He is pro-choice, was among the handful of House Republicans to vote against authorization of the Iraq war in 2002, and opposed the extension of President Bush’s tax cuts in 2003. Mr. Leach’s defeat last year, to a college professor named Dave Loebsack, was the result of two factors: The national anti-GOP wave, and redistricting earlier in the decade, which forced Mr. Leach into a new district, where voters probably weren’t as familiar with the particulars of his ideology. Mr. Leach, 64, is much more scholarly than flashy, but Mr. Bloomberg would find in him a competent and respected campaign partner. Bottom-line: Leach would win plaudits from the press, but would he win any states?
Cory Booker: The 38-year-old Booker is in his second year as the Mayor of Newark, the violet and impoverished New Jersey City 15 miles west of Mr. Bloomberg’s New York – not ordinarily a stepping-stone to the national stage. But Mr. Booker is a bright, dynamic and fast-rising political talent, whose fight against his predecessor’s ruthless and corrupt political machine was chronicled in the 2005 documentary “Street Fight,” which was nominated for an Oscar. Within the Garden State, Mr. Booker, a Stanford athlete, Rhodes Scholar, and Yale law graduate, is seen as a potential savior of Newark and already has rock star popularity, easily topping heavyweights like Jon Corzine, Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez is statewide polls. More to the point, he and Mr. Bloomberg have formed a close working relationship, and Mr. Booker regularly cites Mr. Bloomberg’s administration as a model for his Newark efforts (he’s also raided the Bloomberg administration some of his top appointments). Mr. Booker probably has too bright a future in the Democratic Party to consider teaming with Mr. Bloomberg, but given the magnetic appeal of his personality, there’s reason to suspect his entrance onto the national political stage would evoke comparisons to Barack Obama’s at the Democratic convention in ’04. The obvious down-side of Mr. Booker is his lack of seasoning – just two years as mayor of a city of 280,000 and no foreign policy experience. A Bloomberg-Booker ticket might also be too New York/New Jersey-centric. Bottom-line: Probably won’t happen, but an intriguing wild card
Tim Penny: A 55-year-old former Democratic Congressman from Minnesota, Mr. Penny was among his party’s most aggressive deficit hawks in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, a thorn in the side of Republican and Democratic Presidents. After six terms, he left the House in 1995 and was mentioned in connection with Ross Perot’s vice-presidential slot in 1996. Mr. Penny re-emerged in 2002 as a candidate for Governor of Minnesota, seeking to replace fellow independent Jesse Ventura. But he finished distant third, with 16 percent of the vote. Bottom-line: He might be worth a call if everyone else says no
Tom Brokaw: Admittedly, this is a far-fetched idea – but maybe not as far-fetched as you might think at first. The 67-year-old Brokaw has been proposed as a political candidate before: a group of Democrats approached him about seeking their presidential nomination in 1988. Now over two years into his retirement as the anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” Mr. Brokaw remains universally recognizable, his face an instantly credible and reassuring sight for millions of Americans. For virtually all of his 22 years leading “Nightly News,” it was the highest-rated of the three network newscasts, a perch from which it now seems to be falling. Mr. Brokaw has a combination of name recognition and credibility unmatched by any national politician. That he’d even be interested in the vice-presidency seems a remote possibility. But might an independent effort designed to rise above partisan politics and unite the country have some allure to him? To run, he’d probably need to move out of state from the Upper East Side of New York, where he and Mr. Bloomberg are neighbors. Bottom-line: Crazier things have happened. I think?
Lincoln Chafee: Defeated in his Senate re-election bid last fall, the Rhode Islander doesn’t seem through with politics: He’s already being mentioned as a contender for his state’s governorship in 2010. But he owes nothing to the Republican Party to which he nominally belongs, meaning he might be receptive to an overture from Mr. Bloomberg. As a Senator, Mr. Chafee most famously cast the lone GOP vote against the Iraq war resolution in ’02. He also refused to support President Bush’s re-election in 2004, a step that even Mr. Bloomberg, himself as badly miscast as a Republican as Mr. Chafee, didn’t take. Chafee’s independence would fit well with Mr. Bloomberg, and his legislative background would complement the mayor’s executive experience nicely. But Mr. Chafee also isn’t much of a public speaker, and while he projects friendliness, he has struggled to express himself in television appearances. Bottom-line: Bloomberg can probably do better.
Ralph Nader: This one was suggested in jest by a Democrat from Maryland, who writes of a Bloomberg-Nader ticket: “If the Democrats lose in 08 they still can blame Nader – and Mike escapes scot free.”