The energized right wing, with its Tea Partiers and conservative candidates, have challenged -- and defeated -- moderate Republicans in primaries nationwide. But that doesn't mean all disgruntled Americans have gone to the Tea Party. The fastest-growing political party in the United States is no party at all. More Americans consider themselves independent rather than Republican or Democrat, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll.
Enter Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has traversed the country to endorse moderate candidates from both parties, and is an independent. An ad released Tuesday from gubernatorial hopeful Lincoln Chaffee, running as an independent in Rhode Island, includes old footage of President Obama heaping praise on the former senator in March 2008 (back when Chaffee was a Democrat), and closes with a glowing endorsement from Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"That's the kind of leader Linc Chaffee is," Bloomberg's voice intones as footage of the mayor and Chaffee rolls. "His honesty and his integrity, and his willingness to stand up even when it isn't in his own political interest, and tell the truth to the public."
Such endorsements are, to many, evidence that Bloomberg is slowly expanding his political clout. To date, his handpicked candidates span the country and the political centrist spectrum: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Meg Whitman, the GOP gubernatorial candidate in California and former eBay CEO; Democratic gubernatorial candidates Andrew Cuomo in New York; John Hickenlooper in Colorado and Martin O'Malley in Maryland; Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo; Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., running for Senate in the Keystone State; and Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., running for Senate in the Prairie State. Among the roster of endorsements, Chaffee is the only one running as an independent.
Chaffee's acting campaign manager Mike Trainor said Bloomberg's support was especially meaningful because of the similarities between the two politicians: Both have experienced the "trauma" of leaving established parties.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg Creates 'Bounce'"It was very relevant to have Mayor Bloomberg come in and provide a boost to the campaign when we sorely needed it," said Trainor. "I can tell you I noticed a nice little bounce in our internal polling following the endorsement." Bloomberg endorsed Chaffee in mid-September.
More endorsements were expected later this week; however, Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson said there are no additional endorsements to announce at the moment. Wolfson went on to note that his boss's recent actions are simply an attempt to temper the extreme politics of late.
"The mayor believes that our politics has become too polarized and partisan," said Wolfson, "[He] has endorsed candidates from both parties around the nation that he believes will work in a bipartisan way to bring about results."
Bloomberg is not only one of the few popular incumbents in the country -- a recent New York Times poll showed that nearly 60 percent of city voters approve of the job he is doing -- he is also one of the few successful independent politicians.
Bloomberg was a lifelong Democrat before he switched to the GOP for his first mayoral run in 2001. He quit the Republicans in 2008, and ran as an independent mayoral candidate the following year.
Barring rewriting the law -- a feat he has pulled in the past -- this will be his final term as mayor of New York, which has led to much guesswork about his next political move. Some interpret the political endorsements as the first stirrings of a 2012 presidential run.
Wolfson, who incidentally played an integral role in Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, said Bloomberg "has flatly ruled out a 2012 run." That hasn't stemmed the tide of rumors. New York Magazine's recent cover story went to great lengths to explain how Bloomberg throwing himself into the 2012 race as an independent would be Sarah Palin's best shot at the presidency.
"I'm guessing ... he wants to see whether or not there is a permanent moderate constituency, and if he could tap into that as an independent candidate," said Stephen Wayne of Georgetown University.
Republicans and Democrats Make It Tough for Third Party ContendersWayne is quick to point out that third party candidates have several strikes against them. The majority of Americans identify themselves as Republican or Democrat, he said, and since 1988 there has been a high correlation between party affiliation and voting behavior, e.g., 90 percent of Democrats voted for Obama in 2008, and 90 percent voted for McCain. Finally, said Wayne, the laws governing elections are made by Democrats and Republicans, and they are specifically designed to make it difficult for third party candidates to get on the ballot. Still, a Bloomberg run could influence the political playing field.
"By running a moderate campaign, [Bloomberg] will move both parties toward the center," said Wayne. "The question is how long will they stay there after the election, which is hard to say."
For the present, the White House has its eye on the mayor's shuffle onto the national stage. In the past few months, Obama has invited Bloomberg for a round of golf on Martha's Vineyard, dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to Gracie Mansion to seek the mayor's economic advice, and even hinted that Bloomberg is in the running to become the next Treasury secretary.
But for Bloomberg, that might be akin to settling, something this billionaire and former CEO is loath to do.