New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel have been conducting regular, private phone conversations over the past few months in an effort to "feel each other out" for a possible presidential run, sources have told the Huffington Post.
The development feeds speculation that the two men could mount a third-party White House ticket. And while the maverick Republican and the independent mayor have met in the past, the ongoing conversations provide the clearest indication yet that they are considering such a move.
Sources with knowledge of the conversations say they are done in private, and so the topics of discussion remain unclear. But one high-ranking aide confirmed that the two have discussed Hagel joining the presidential campaign should Bloomberg decide to run.
"It has to come from Bloomberg because Hagel can't really do anything," said the source, before adding that there was no indication that the two have declared a political alliance. A decision on whether to run will likely be made once the Democrats and Republicans have settled on a nominee.
The Bloomberg-Hagel presidential rumors began after the two had lunch together last May. Days later, Hagel appeared on CBS' Face the Nation and remarked that he would consider running on an independent ticket with Bloomberg, presumably, at the head. A few months later, the Washington Post's David Broder, wrote a flattering piece about the possibility of the two men mounting a run at the White House. As recently as a few weeks ago the pair reunited for a dinner in New York City.
"We didn't make any deals," Hagel said after the meal. "But I think Mayor Bloomberg is the kind of individual who should seriously think about this. It's a great country to think about - a New York boy and a Nebraska boy to be teamed up leading this nation."
Apart from Hagel, Bloomberg has made several political moves that suggest he is interested in running for the White House. Early in 2007 he switched his party affiliation from Republican to Independent. And in late November, the Huffington Post reported that the mayor has been receiving foreign policy briefings from Nancy Soderberg, a Clinton administration official who was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Echoing media reports, a recent Bloomberg dinner companion told the Huffington Post that the mayor "discusses the permutations of his entering the presidential race all the time."
Mayor Bloomberg's office and Senator Hagel's office both declined to comment.
The dynamics of a Bloomberg-Hagel ticket are unique if not at times incongruous. Both men share objections to President Bush's policies in Iraq and have shown outward willingness to buck the two-party system. But on domestic affairs, and especially social policies like abortion and gay marriage, their stances are drastically different. Still, those in favor of a third-party ticket see enough similarities to create the framework for at least a portion of a White House cabinet.
"As you build a unity team, one of the things you, of course, take into consideration is what are the strengths and weakness of each person on that team," said Doug Bialey, co-founder of Unity08, a group supporting an independent presidential ticket in 2008. "It may not be necessary. It may be that there is a member of the team that wouldn't be a great vice president but would be great to have on the team."
And indeed one of the chief purposes of the private phone conversations, sources say, is to help build the personal and political gap should Bloomberg choose to run with Hagel by his side.
"The [conversation] are not always political," an aide speculated. "They are often just the two of them getting to know each other."