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Bloomberg May Wait Until May To Decide

When former two-time New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ran for a third term in 2009 after amending the cities term limits law, he raised suspicion and even contempt among his critics. It didn't help when the billionaire went on to run the most expensive self-financing campaign in U.S. history, spending $108 billion of his personal fortune.
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Michael Bloomberg may soon begin a massive operation to get on the ballot in up to 15 states even though the billionaire mayor may not decide until May whether to run for president, according to associates.

Despite John McCain's widening lead in the Republican race, an imminent ballot deadline for third-parties in Texas and a recently expanded denial of interest from Bloomberg himself, these associates say the mayor and his operatives are actively laying necessary groundwork for an independent campaign and are in no hurry to decide whether or not to run.

Bloomberg's political operatives have spent several months assembling the skeleton of a nationwide ballot-access movement, one confidant of the mayor told The Associated Press.

Bloomberg's evaluation of his own plans could stretch all the way into May, contrary to conventional wisdom that he would make up his mind after Super Tuesday, said Doug Schoen, who was Bloomberg's pollster in his mayoral campaigns and remains part of the mayor's inner circle.

"This can play out over the next two to three months before he has to make a decision," Schoen said.

Bloomberg may even launch early-state petition drives to get his name on the ballot before he decides whether to run, Schoen and another associate said. The other associate, requesting anonymity while discussing private strategy, said the early petition drives would start in Texas and likely another 10 to 15 states.

"There is a mechanism in place, there are specific steps being taken and a sense that there is a viability to his candidacy," said Schoen, who wrote a book about how conditions are ideal this year for a third-party candidate like Bloomberg.

The ballot effort comes at the same time as a sophisticated 50-state voter analysis that Bloomberg also quietly launched in recent months, and is another sign about how seriously Bloomberg is considering a White House run, even as questions have emerged about whether his presidential balloon had begun to deflate.

In recent weeks, some have theorized that the rise of Democrat Barack Obama and McCain - who both draw independent voters and have crossover appeal - would make Bloomberg more hesitant to launch an independent campaign because Obama and McCain weaken his selling point as a non-partisan, pragmatic alternative.

And last week, just as Bloomberg's chief California supporter, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, endorsed McCain, Bloomberg himself sounded less enchanted about running when he said he is not a presidential candidate and that he'll "stay that way."

But the Bloomberg camp does not necessarily see McCain and Obama as immediate obstacles to a third-party bid, according to associates.

Bloomberg will be watching not only the results from Tuesday, but also the internal party debates and dynamics that follow. He said last Friday that the Democratic battle could go "maybe even all the way to the convention."

If the parties remain divided about their choices, as some Bloomberg operatives believe they will, then the 65-year-old mayor may see an opportunity.

This week's primary or the day next month when Bloomberg can officially begin an effort to get on the ballot in Texas aren't the hard-and-fast dates for a Bloomberg campaign to formally open or shut for good, as many have believed.

And Bloomberg's 50-state analysis of voter attitudes and information - first reported last month by The Associated Press - has shown encouraging results, Schoen said.

The examination of voter information indicated that between 30 to 40 percent of the electorate is open to the idea of a third-party candidate, he said.

State ballot rules vary greatly: Some require little more than a small fee while others ask for specific numbers of signatures from registered voters, which can only be collected at certain times.

Bloomberg's camp has already concluded its study of ballot access in Texas. The deadline to get on the ballot there is May 12, but petitioners cannot begin collecting signatures until after the state's March 4 major party primary.

Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser declined comment.