New York State's Independence Party has all but reserved its line on the ballot for New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg should he run for president next year.
Top party officials said Wednesday that they would welcome Bloomberg's candidacy and the several hundred million dollars of his own money he would devote to the effort. And they insist his presence on the ballot's third line could make him competitive even against other New Yorkers like Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Rudy Giuliani, his predecessor as mayor.
"We would work with the Bloomberg people to lead a movement not only for him for president, but for our dream to create a national third party," said Tom Connolly, vice chairman of the state Independence Party. "This is very, very exciting."
Anthony L. Orsini, the Erie County Independence leader who is also a state party vice chairman, said the mayor's strength in New York City could mean anything could happen in a statewide presidential contest despite Democratic dominance over the past generation.
"If Bloomberg comes out of New York City strong, Hillary can't count on New York State," Orsini said.
Bloomberg said Tuesday he was leaving the Republican Party in a move many interpret as a prelude to running for president as an independent in 2008.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday on a hypothetical presidential race showed Clinton with the support of 43 percent of New York's registered voters, Giuliani at 29 percent and Bloomberg at 16 percent. It was conducted before Bloomberg's Tuesday announcement.
Such a move would extend to the mayor an organization ready to put him on the ballot in one of the nation's biggest states, where his popularity in its biggest city is soaring. It also allows him to reach out to other states with independent parties eager to embrace a candidacy fueled by his personal fortune and with the most potential since independent Ross Perot captured 19 percent of the presidential vote in 1992.
Bloomberg could qualify to run as an independent in most states that do not allow registered members of other parties to run on other lines. But New York's Independence Party and its 350,000 registered members give Bloomberg the best organization from which to launch his candidacy, precluding the need to hire people to circulate designating petitions as in less organized states.
All of this leads Syracuse University's Jeffrey M. Stonecash, a professor of political science, to observe that Bloomberg could prove a potent force.
"He's got four [billion] or five billion dollars, that's a big chunk of money and enough to make Ross Perot look like an amateur," Stonecash said.
He added that Bloomberg's aura of competence and independence could also prove attractive in a presidential field marked by uncertainity.
"Rudy has his problems, Hillary has negatives that just don't seem to go away, and [John] McCain keeps shooting himself in the foot," Stonecash said. "The electorate might embrace a guy who is pragmatic and competent. It's all possible."
While Stonecash noted that third parties like Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party in 1912 and Perot's Reform Party in 1992 made big splashes but didn't win, he returned to what could prove Bloomberg's major strength.
"When you've got four [billion] or five billion dollars . . .," he said, anything is possible.