For better or worse, the Chicago Tribune is Mudge’s hometown print newspaper, and Michael Tackett is one of its most insightful political correspondents.
FINE POINT: A LOOK AT THE WEEK IN WASHINGTON
An idea for Bloomberg
By Michael Tackett
the Tribune’s Washington Bureau chief
July 8, 2007
The current political swoon is for an unlikely object of affection, a 5-foot-7 billionaire media mogul turned mayor of New York who was a Democrat before he became a Republican before he became an independent.
Among his supporters, there is an undeniable allure to the prospect of Michael Bloomberg running for president. He can pay his own way and won’t be reflexively beholden to donors and special interests. He built a visionary business before turning to politics. He has a record for competence and efficiency in his tenure as mayor of New York City. He has a deadpan persona that is decidedly non-partisan.
So it is logical that some see Bloomberg’s recent pivot from Republican to Independent as the predicate for a White House campaign.
This presidential cycle is delivering many things early. Money is coming in sooner; so are endorsements.
Television advertisements are already running, and a half-dozen debates have been held.
Bloomberg, though, represents something else that is at least six months ahead of schedule, namely the notion that voters — all together now — “want more choices.”
The 20 or so already in the field apparently just aren’t quite good enough. So Bloomberg is filling the role of the Great Alternative.
Clearly, he would have no real difficulty getting on the ballot in every state. That in effect is a function of lawyers and money, and Bloomberg has an abundance of both.
More difficult would be the prospect of winning any actual electoral votes. If he really wanted to have a shot at victory, Bloomberg might put his money behind a movement seeping into state legislatures that would change the way Americans have been picking a president for more than 200 years.
The movement, pushed by a group called the National Popular Vote, would ensure that the candidate who received the most votes nationwide would actually be sworn in as the next president. Recall that didn’t actually happen four times in U.S. history, 1824, 1876, 1888, and, oh yes, 2000.
As of last month, only Maryland had passed a bill that would allot its electoral votes to the candidate who won the national popular vote, regardless of the actual results in Maryland. The Illinois House has passed a similar measure, one of 10 states to do so in at least one legislative chamber. The group says that its National Popular Vote bill has sponsors in 47 states.
Though the primary force behind the move is to award victory to the candidate with the most votes, states offer secondary reasons as well. In Illinois, lawmakers argue in part that states that are reliably Democratic or Republican in presidential elections get the flyover treatment during the campaign from the major candidates. If popular vote totals counted, Illinois would again become a favored track.
Among the notable backers of the National Popular Vote are John Anderson, a former Illinois congressman whose third-party bid in 1980 failed to win any electoral votes, and former Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh, a candidate for president in 1976.
Robert Bennett, a law professor at Northwestern University, has been urging a similar change since the 2000 election. “The basic idea is that any state could if it wished say that our electors are committed to the winner of the nationwide popular vote rather than committed to the winner of the statewide vote,” Bennett said in an e-mail.
He said the Constitution would allow this because it gives state legislatures authority to determine the manner of selecting electors.
So for a candidate like Bloomberg, this would potentially provide a path to clear the hurdles faced by Anderson in 1980 and Ross Perot in 1992, among others, to actually win votes in the Electoral College. Under the popular vote scheme, Bloomberg could win by racking up huge margins in states such as New York, California, New Jersey and Florida, to name four.
A strong Bloomberg candidacy could also result in no candidate winning a majority vote, though under Bennett’s proposal the electoral votes would be awarded to the nationwide plurality winner.
“That is in contrast to the present system where if Bloomberg won a state or two — say New York — he might well deprive either of the major party candidates of the required Electoral College majority,” Bennett said. Which, he is quick to point out, is not the preferred outcome.
“But under the current system it seems entirely conceivable that a well-financed effort by Bloomberg could walk off with some electoral votes.”
That would make Bloomberg a spoiler instead of a president. And a bad end to another third-party boomlet.
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
I’m liking Michael Bloomberg more and more, and National Popular Vote seems (at this first peek) slightly less hidden agenda-ish than the organization I naively jumped at a few weeks ago (won’t even list the name).
It’s it for now. Thanks,