With John McCain's ascendancy as the Republican frontrunner, and the Democratic primary appearing far from resolved, political observers say New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has little room to maneuver a White House bid.
"Unquestionably," said Stu Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. "On the Republican side McCain is a moderate conservative, he appeals to independents, and is not the traditional Republican. That would be part of Bloomberg's appeal. Certainly on the Democratic side, my understanding is he wanted to make a decision by March or April, but there may not be a nominee by then."
But if conventional wisdom holds that Bloomberg's on-and-off flirtation with a White House has taken a hit, signs emanating from the mayor's camp suggest they are pleased, not panicked, by their current position.
Bloomberg is poised to start a massive operation to get his name on the ballot in 15 states. He has already, as the New York Daily News reported, brought on board Arno Political Consultants to help him with the task. And advisers are floating the idea that the billionaire mayor could hold off a decision until April or May and still make a legitimate run at the White House.
The Bloomberg camp's logic: If Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton sufficiently bloody each other in their pursuit of the nomination (alienating some Democrats and independents in the process), and if concern about McCain's inexperience with economic policy grows, there could be a political niche for Bloomberg to occupy.
"Prolonged primaries always help opponents," Kevin Sheekey, the mayor's top strategist told the Huffington Post, "and Senator McCain has to come up with answers to the economy before he can declare victory."
Added a New York politico, who would support a Bloomberg candidacy should he choose to run: "Extended animosity between Clinton or Obama does not strike me as a bad thing for Bloomberg. It is not going to be a short primary but they are going to be bloodied."
Not everyone sees it this way. Doug Bailey, the Republican consultant who recently left Unity 08 to launch a national draft Bloomberg effort, points to a few political hurdles blocking the mayor's path.
"It causes an awkwardness in the decision making," Bailey said of the prolonged Democratic primary. "There has been a presumption that this would be a whole lot easier for Bloomberg to make a decision if it was clear whom he would be running against. And you can't be clear who you are running against at this point. In his case, he has to start ballot access operations by the first week in May, dictated by Texas law, in effect. So he would have to make a decision to start that process without knowing who the candidates would be. And that is not, what I expect, they had in mind. But it doesn't mean it won't happen."
Indeed, as Richard Winger, the editor of Ballot Access News notes, if Bloomberg wants to compete in Texas he needs to either start gathering signatures or make overtures to established third parties for their support.
But even though it appears the moment of truth is approaching, Bloomberg's camp seems content to push back a decision -- waiting, it seems, for a crystallization of the political landscape. Doug Schoen, the mayor's pollster, told the Associated Press:
"This can play out over the next two to three months before he has to make a decision. There is a mechanism in place, there are specific steps being taken and a sense that there is a viability to his candidacy."