Yesterday New York city Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he is switching his party from Republican to independent. The pundit circles are abuzz that this signals he is running for president as an independent in 2008.
Journalists have been noting in their reporting that independent candidates do not fair well in the United States. Ralph Nader, running on the Green ticket in 2000, did not get 5% of the vote. Ross Perot, an overall more successful third party candidate, was unable to get any electoral votes in 1992, even though he had a strong, oh 18% popular approval going into the election (or so, my memory is a touch fuzzy on his support numbers).
I think the comparisons are unfair; that is, to lump all third party candidates and their campaigns together is inappropriate. Each third party candidate acquires a unique flavor, like different types of alcohol, and to mix them all together misses the subtleties and unique characteristics of each.
Take Perot for example. Journalists are comparing Perot and Bloomberg in part because they're both financially independent. Both are billionaires who could fund their campaigns. But the similarities really end there. Perot had never held elected office. He was a one issue candidate (remember those terrific easel demonstrations of the budget deficit?). He had really big ears.
And, he dropped out half way through the campaign. After coyly inviting people to get him on the ballot in all 50 states, which they did, in the early summer he dropped out, out of a fit of paranoia that he and his family were being targeted by the other campaigns in malicious ways. Then, in early fall he changed his mine and declared he was running.
The loss in momentum that occurred when he dropped out, coupled with the appearance of a somewhat paranoid mind led many supporters to back away from Perot, and it lost him potential supporters, too.
Bloomberg is an entirely different character. He's been mayor to the United State's largest city. He's managed it as a centrist. He is not a single issue candidate.
I predict that he will develop a following (and I *always* predict wrong, BTW), and that over the course of the next few months as he tours the country to see if his message is resonating, he'll find that it does. And then, the 2008 race will get even more interesting.