By Jonathan Lemire and Lisa Lerer, AP
NEW YORK–Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is taking early steps toward launching an independent campaign for president, seeing a potential path to the White House amid the rise of billionaire Donald Trump and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.
Bloomberg has retained advisers and plans to conduct a poll after the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary to assess the state of the race and judge whether there is an opening for him to mount an independent campaign, according to three people familiar with his thinking. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about his plans, which were first reported Saturday by The New York Times.
Bloomberg has set a March deadline to decide on whether to enter the race, to ensure his access to the ballot in all 50 states.
The billionaire media executive, who served three terms as mayor of New York, is said to be concerned by Trump’s lasting hold and is worried about the impact of Sanders’ campaign on Hillary Clinton’s bid for the ruling Democratic Party’s primary nomination.
Bloomberg’s efforts underscore the unsettled nature of the presidential race a little more than a week before the first round of primary voting. The months-long rise of Sanders and Trump has shaken up the political establishment in both parties and on Wall Street, who’ve struggled to combat their climb in primary polls.
A longtime Democrat who became a member of the center-right Republicans to run for mayor in 2001 and later switched to be an independent, Bloomberg would strongly consider a bid if the general election looked like it could turn into a contest between Sanders as the Democratic candidate and Trump or Texas Senator Ted Cruz as the Republican contender.
He is not ruling out a bid if Clinton is ahead on the Democratic side, though people familiar with his plans believe it is not particularly likely Bloomberg would challenge Clinton in a general election. But they said Bloomberg has expressed concern about the damage caused by revelations she used a private email address and server while serving as secretary of state, and he fears she may emerge atop the Democratic field as a weakened nominee.
The two New Yorkers have a cordial relationship, people close to them say. They met privately at Bloomberg’s offices a few months before Clinton announced her campaign last April, before an event announcing a philanthropic initiative to measure and track data about issues affecting women and girls. Bloomberg has also spoken at events hosted by the Clinton Foundation.
To prepare for a potential run, Bloomberg has also instructed aides to research previous third-party runs and is said to be willing to spend up to US$1 billion of his own fortune, estimated to be about US$37 billion, to finance his campaign.