Monday, October 25, 2010


I guess John Heilemann has been reading my blog, because in the current issue of New York magazine he tells us that Sarah Palin could become president if Mike Bloomberg runs a third-party presidential campaign -- a nightmare scenario I've also explored. One difference between Heilemann and me: he thinks Bloomberg has to win some states to wreak this kind of havoc. I don't.

Heilemann writes:

One scenario, most likely if the economy suffers a double-dip recession, is that the nation would be so desperate for capable economic management that Bloomberg would be able to overcome his vulnerabilities -- his short-Jewish-unmarried-plutocratness -- and find himself deposited in the Oval Office.

Another scenario, the likeliest, is that Bloomberg's entry would secure the reelection of Obama. "There's enough solid Republicans that even Palin gets between 26 and 30 percent of the vote," forecasts [GOP strategist Matthew] Dowd. "And there's enough solid Democrats that, depending on the economy, Obama gets 40 to 42 percent. That leaves Bloomberg with between 28 and 34 percent, which just isn’t enough."

But there is a third scenario, one that involves a more granular kind of analysis-cum-speculation. By the accounts of strategists in both parties, Bloomberg -- especially with the help of his billions -- would stand a reasonable chance of carrying New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, and California. Combine that with a strong-enough showing in a few other places in the industrial Northeast to deny Obama those states, and with Palin holding the fire-engine-red states of the South, and the president might find himself short of the 270 electoral votes necessary to win.

Assuming you still remember the basics from American Government 101, you know what would happen next: The election would be thrown to the House of Representatives -- which, after November 2, is likely to be controlled by the Republicans. The result: Hello, President Palin!

OK, let's dismiss Scenario #1 right away. Mike Bloomberg cannot possibly be elected president in 2012, or probably in any other year. It's not just that he's short and Jewish and from New York and unmarried. It's all that plus the fact that he's a passionate believer in gun control and the most fervent defender of the downtown Manhattan Islamic cultural center. Oh, and he's what right-wingers call a nanny-stater. He won't get many heartland votes.

This means that every vote he gets he'll get from a few liberals and a somewhat greater number of moderates who would otherwise vote Democratic. And that's the problem. Scenario #2 is crazy because Obama doesn't have a guaranteed 40-42% of the vote. Look at Kendrick Meek in Florida -- there's a third-party guy in the race who has centrist cred, and the result is that that third-party guy, Charlie Crist, pushes Meek into third place. Lisa Murkowski's done the same thing to Scott McAdams in Alaska. Think it can't happen to Obama? See if we have two more years of more than 9% unemployment, then get back to me.

Now, I don't see Bloomberg as a Murkowski, or even as a Crist. I don't see him winning any states, even New York. (Half the state's population lives far away from the city.) But it might not matter.

However, if Bloomberg gets between 5% and 15% of the vote in blue and purple states, he could win zero electoral votes and still elect the Republican. That's because virtually every vote he gets will come out of Obama's hide.

That's what I think will happen if he runs and the economy is still awful. So, yes, he needs to be taken seriously, and the Obama people aren't crazy for worrying about him as much as Heilemann says they do.

No comments: