June 19, 2007 / 10:36 PM / 12 years ago

Third-party candidates long shot in U.S. election

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg may have what it takes to run a strong third-party presidential bid, the subject of growing talk, but the odds of winning are practically nil, experts say.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg listens to introductions at the C40 Large Cities Climate Summit luncheon in New York in this May 15, 2007 file photo. Bloomberg said on Tuesday he was changing his political status to independent from Republican. REUTERS/Richard Drew/Pool

While Bloomberg has the money, name recognition and experience, the experts said political conditions would have to be just right for him to get elected in November 2008.

Republican and Democratic voters would both have to be hugely dissatisfied, and he would have to wage an extensive campaign to get on the ballot in each state, they note.

Bloomberg, who says he is not running for president, announced on Tuesday he was changing his political status to independent from Republican.

“Although my plans for the future haven’t changed, I believe this brings my affiliation into alignment with how I have led and will continue to lead our city,” Bloomberg said in a statement.

A longtime Democrat, he became a Republican to run in a less-crowded field when he made his first foray into politics and was elected mayor in 2001. He was re-elected in 2005.

Since a stable two-party system has governed U.S. presidential elections for more than a century, American voters have never elected a third-party candidate to the nation’s top job.

“Look at American history. The odds are heavily against it succeeding,” said Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “The odds are we will have some third-party candidate or candidates in 2008, but success is elusive, even for people who can spend a billion dollars.”

Bloomberg, a multibillionaire, has failed to quell the speculation about a possible presidential run.

He has crisscrossed the country, visiting 20 cities in the past 18 months, according to the New York Post. He traveled on Monday in California, giving speeches in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

For Bloomberg to succeed with a third-party bid for the White House next year, voters in both parties would have to be deeply unhappy with the nominees, said Democratic political strategist Hank Sheinkopf.

“The level of anger and disenchantment can determine whether these kind of candidacies have any legs at all,” Sheinkopf said.

But that may be happening already, said Sandy Maisel, director of the Goldfarb Center of Public Affairs at Maine’s Colby College.

RIGHT CIRCUMSTANCES

Any Republican nominee would be running in the wake of President George W. Bush, whose approval ratings are low, while among Democrats, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton could be a polarizing choice. Neither party has found a way to end the U.S.-led war in Iraq, he said.

“Anybody with the amount of money that Bloomberg has, if he wanted to spend it, could become a player in the right circumstances, and he’s got the right circumstances,” Maisel said.

Third-party candidate Ross Perot played a large role in the 1992 and 1996 elections, and Ralph Nader had an impact in 2000.

“There’s a certain number of scenarios where Bloomberg can be a real influence on the outcome, and that three out of the last four presidential elections were shaped or decided by third-party party candidates is a very powerful statistic,” said Lawrence Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota.

But research shows even disgruntled voters tend to vote their party. “Party identification is very, very strong,” Jacobs said.

Unlike Perot and Nader, the impact of a Bloomberg run is hard to pinpoint. Some experts argue he would draw Republican votes, others say Democratic votes, still others think he could draw equally from each.

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