BOSTON (Reuters) - New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the richest men in America, says his views are too polarizing for him to become president of the United States.
But analysts say however much he may protest, conditions may be gelling for Bloomberg, who came close to standing for the White House in 2008, to run in 2012 as an independent.
Voter distaste for both the Democratic and Republican parties and perceptions of government incompetence on big issues, from the Iraq war to the Gulf oil spill, could herald a new chance for the three-term mayor.
“He’s got the right climate and he’s got the money. Resources are always an issue for third-party candidates, but Bloomberg has got that covered,” said Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Bloomberg, 68, is a fiscal conservative with liberal social views who is formally an independent. He combines proven political skills with business acumen and has drawn high ratings for his job running New York City.
It is two-and-a-half years before the next presidential election in November 2012. Democrat Barack Obama is expected to seek a second term but is now struggling with low polling numbers and the Republican field is wide open.
At a speech in New Hampshire on Friday, Bloomberg, as he always does, dismissed suggestions that he intends to run but failed to kill the speculation.
“Only my girlfriend and my mother would support me. And I’m not sure about my mother,” he quipped. “If the press is in the back — no, I’m not running. I want to make that clear.”
Still, the comments, and the speech’s setting, did little to silence the buzz.
Bloomberg was kicking off a “presidential lecture series” (actually named for the president of Dartmouth College, who was present) in the state which traditionally holds the first primary vote in the presidential election.
White House hopefuls often visit New Hampshire to test the waters for their campaign long before the election.
Asked about a presidential bid, Bloomberg said his liberal views on issues like abortion and gay rights were out of the current American mainstream.
“I’m pro-choice. I’m pro-gay rights. I’m pro-immigration, I’m pro-gun control. I believe in Darwin,” he said. These views are anathema to many in a Republican Party that is increasingly conservative and laced with fundamental Christian beliefs.
Bloomberg has said he is committed to serving as mayor until his term ends in 2013 and would then leave politics and become a full-time philanthropist.
But it did not go unnoticed that Bloomberg has employed as a political strategist Howard Wolfson, who served as a senior aide on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid.
Bloomberg is the founder of Bloomberg LP, the financial news and media company. Forbes magazine estimates his net worth at $18 billion, the eighth-highest in the United States.
“Bloomberg has a really strong competency argument. The approval rates for both parties are in the 20 to 30 percent range now, extremely low. The climate right now is perfect for someone like Bloomberg to run,” Jensen said.
A lifelong Democrat who turned Republican to run for New York mayor in 2001, Bloomberg left the Republican Party to become an independent in 2007, a move some interpreted then as preparation for a presidential run.
“A successful mayor of New York with lots of resources and lots of ambition should never be counted out,” said Charles Franklin, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and co-founder of pollster.com.
Jensen compared a potential Bloomberg 2012 run to the U.S. Senate campaign of Florida Governor Charlie Crist, a Republican who decided to run as an independent after polls showed him trailing another, more conservative Republican.
The last significant third-party presidential bid was by Texas businessman Ross Perot, who received 18.9 percent of the popular vote — about 19.7 million votes — in the 1992 election won by Bill Clinton. He won 8 percent in 1996.
Unlike Perot, Bloomberg brings with him a track record of winning elections. A Quinnipiac University poll published June 30 showed him with a 57 percent to 33 percent approval rating as New York’s mayor.
Editing by Daniel Trotta and David Storey