New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced he's not a Republican anymore. Rather, he's an independent. There's only one reason for this - he's considering running for the presidency next year as a third party candidate. As Al Gore's old campaign manager, Donna Brazile, says: "there is another player in town."
Although it would be an utter miracle if he actually won the presidency as an independent, or even won any states, Bloomberg does have the ability to mount a serious challenge. For a start, he's got pots of cash (yes, it's the same 'Bloomberg' as those people who do all the financial information). What he loses through a lack of party supporters on the ground, he could at least partly make up with an all-out TV advertising blitz.
Tim Russert of NBC News, essentially the Adam Boulton of the US, reports that Bloomberg will wait and see which candidates the main parties select before deciding on a run. He's a fiscal conservative but social liberal, so surely he won't stand if the Republicans pick his predecessor as mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has similar views. But if they go for John McCain or someone else, there's a chance Bloomberg may be able to carve out a distinctive position between them and the Democrats' nominee.
And it's the Democrats who have most to gain from a Bloomberg candidacy. The last billionaire to stand as a third party candidate was Ross Perot, who did well enough in 1992, and to a lesser extent 1996, to hand Bill Clinton the presidency, because he took a lot of support away from George Bush Snr and Bob Dole. If Bloomberg stands, he may well hurt the Republicans so much, it'll again put a Clinton in the White House.