There’s been a burst of speculation about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s presidential prospects this week, with Steve Kornacki arguing that we shouldn’t write off his chances, and Dave Weigel pouring cold water on the talk, noting, “Insofar as Americans want a third party candidate, they want one who will tackle issues that both parties are, in Washington, to their left on — immigration, spending cuts. And Bloomberg is to the left of Congress on those issues. So why support him?” Include me among the Bloomberg skeptics, not just because of the ideological reasons Weigel mentions, but cultural factors as well. Despite being a billionaire, Perot had a certain populist appeal because he could pull off the folksy Texan schtick, whereas Bloomberg is a Bostonian/New Yorker who made his fortune on Wall Street. Nobody is buying him as the anti-establishment candidate. Yet I still think that were he to run, Bloomberg could have an impact on the race, and make it harder for President Obama to get reelected.
Before I explain why, I will note a data point that undercuts my thesis — a recent poll by Democratic firm PPP that showed a Bloomberg candidacy actually helping Obama. All I can say is it’s hard to read too much into polls this early, when most people don’t know Bloomberg’s actual stances on issues and they’re just expressing a generalized sentiment about the idea of a third party candidate.
Taking into account what his potential appeal could be, it’s easy to see how Bloomberg could cut into Obama’s margins among constituencies that were key to his 2008 victory.
Obama’s election was aided in part to his overtaking John McCain in the suburban vote, which George W. Bush won four years earlier. There are a lot of reasons people have given for this — generalized anti-Bush sentiment, excitement over the first black president, fear of Republicans on immigration and social issues, overindulging in brie and Chablis, etc. Though it may be hard to put a number on this group, my hunch is that there are a certain percentage of these voters who may not love Obama, could never have voted for a ticket with Sarah Palin on it, but who probably would be comfortable telling their neighbors they voted for Bloomberg.
In 2008, Obama won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote, yet he has disappointed many of them as president because of his failure to act on immigration. These disillusioned Hispanic voters may not be willing to vote for a Republican, but some of them may be willing to defect to Boomberg, who holds liberal views on immigration.
Then there’s the Jewish vote, which isn’t large nationwide, but could have an impact in swing states such as Pennsylvania and Florida. Back in April, a poll of Jewish voters found that only 42 percent would reelect Obama, while 46 percent would consider voting for somebody else. While it’s unlikely a large numbers of Jews would vote Republican, they may be inclined to vote for Bloomberg, either out of tribal loyalty or to register frustration with the Obama administration’s hostile stance toward Israel.
Could New Jersey be in play in 2012? It’s a state that’s been a classic tease for Republicans, but with the popular Chris Christie as governor, the GOP nominee could have an outside shot. That task would be made easier were Bloomberg to run — it’s a neighboring state, and has the second largest concentration of Jewish voters (after New York).
One of the big questions facing any potential GOP nominee in 2012 is how they’ll be able to hold together a coalition of independents and Tea Party-sympathetic voters. Even if he didn’t ultimately win, if Bloomberg were to chip away at these various constituencies, it would put the Republican nominee in a much stronger position to win by rallying energized GOP voters and conservative-leaning independents.