Does Mike Bloomberg's decision to leave the Republican Party mean he's running for President?
No. It means he wants stories about a possible run for the Presidency to run in the media. Probably because he is still considering it.
Could he undercut the Republican ticket?
Possibly. If the GOP ran a ticket that people generally (ie not just Democrats and the media) believed was extreme or out of the mainstream, Bloomberg's presence on the ballot could attract some moderate or independent votes that could otherwise have been Republican. On the other hand, if there was a large pool of voters unhappy with the GOP, he could easily take voters who would otherwise have abstained or voted Democrat.
Could he undercut the Democrats?
That's also possible. It depends partly on who their candidate is too. But recall Bloomberg's highest profile and level of support is likely to be in NY, CT and NJ - states which any Democrat needs to win to be remotely credible. Even putting these states into play would cost the Democrats millions just to hang on to three states they have won in four consecutive presidential polls.
Will any high profile figures endorse him?
Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is a possibility. He might even be Bloomberg's running mate. Al Sharpton has publicly speculated on the possibility. Sharpton's voice carries most weight among Black voters in New York City - again, this could be reason for Democrats to worry. Hagel could not deliver a state for Bloomberg (Nebraska is solidly Republican, and Hagel faces probable primary challenge if he seeks re-election) but would add legislative and foreign policy credibility.
How will he pitch his candidacy?
This will probably depend on who the other candidates are, and therefore who is vulnerable. One theme will be the chief executive who gets things done. Another will be the anti-politician. A third is probably the moderate who can work with both sides. But which of the other candidates will be vulnerable to being painted as extreme? Or as a political hack?
How much will he spend?
As much as he likes. Estimates as to his fortune vary from $5 billion to $20 billion. He has speculated on spending $500 million, which would be more than Kerry and Bush combined in 2004. It could even be double that, which would be ten times what Ross Perot spent.
Could he get as many votes as Perot?
In some ways he seems like Perot without the weaknesses. He isn't barking mad and he has real executive experience. But it depends mostly who the other candidates are. Unless one of the parties makes a candidate-selection blunder, and one of the major tickets implodes, he is unlikely to do better than Perot in percentage terms (19%). But his vote might be more concentrated in a small region which would give him a better chance of winning Electoral College votes. This is still a longshot, as his strongest states are firmly Democrat.
Which of the major candidates would be most vulnerable to a Bloomberg challenge?
That's a very complex call. It depends on knowing BOTH the major party candidates, and how Bloomberg seeks to define himself and his opponents. A third party candidate needs to define a clear difference with the major parties - or at least with one of them, if he thinks one can be taken out completely. But let's look at Hillary Clinton. If she were the Democrats' choice, I would advise Bloomberg to run as a liberal, but differentiate himself from her by painting her as a 'typical politician' and himself as get-things-done CEO. If that is successful, then try to finish her off by saying to liberal voters that she plainly can't win, but if they switch to him, he can. The candidate least vulnerable to that sort of differentiation is Mitt Romney - himself a successful businessman. But Romney and Giuliani are running as Republicans who can win in the North East. Conservatives, especially in the South, are rather suspicious of them. A candidate who loses some of his base can still win if a similar number of independents or cross-over voters replace the lost base. But Bloomberg could siphon off some of those cross-over voters making it harder for a Giuliani or Romney ticket to replace lost voters.
If he is spending a billion dollars, would he use it to go after Republicans or Democrats?
That may depend on who he thinks is vulnerable. In terms of his actual views, he is deeply opposed to the conservative side of the culture wars. He would attack any Republican ticket that majored on that. However, he probably feels more strongly about economic issues. Clinton, Obama, and Edwards all want to move away from the free trade position that Democrats have run on in the last five elections. Bloomberg would certainly attack that, and might use it to portray himself as a better heir of (Bill) Clinton and Gore than any of the leading Democrats.