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Bloomberg tipped to seek presidency

Michael S. Bloomberg already has his name plastered on the walls of the Johns Hopkins University, on the highly successful financial-information company that earned him billions and on the mayor's office in New York City.

Now, it seems increasingly clear, he wouldn't mind putting it on the Oval Office at the White House, too. The Republican mayor took a significant step on Tuesday toward a potential independent candidacy for president by announcing that he was quitting his party and becoming an independent. Bloomberg, 65, who cannot run again for mayor because of term limits, has yet to announce a presidential candidacy. Indeed, while he has stoked speculation, he has seemingly sought to deflate it by denying he has plans to run.

"A short, Jewish billionaire from New York? C'mon," he has said when asked about his potential 2008 candidacy. In a statement released by his office last evening, Bloomberg, a former Democrat, said that his "plans for the future haven't changed." He then went on to list achievements that his "nonpartisan approach" had produced for his city on many of the domestic issues central to the 2008 campaign: economic growth, public health, security and education. "We have achieved real progress by overcoming the partisanship that too often puts narrow interests above the common good," he said.

"Any successful elected executive knows that real results are more important than partisan battles and that good ideas should take precedence over rigid adherence to any particular ideology. Working together, there's no limit to what we can do." Bloomberg's statement was released while he was in California on a trip that has stoked further interest in his Washington ambitions. Featured with popular California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on the cover of this week's Time magazine (which portrayed them as "The New Action Heroes"), the mayor delivered a major speech Monday night in Los Angeles that had all the earmarks of a presidential campaign address. He also made a recent visit to New Hampshire, the first presidential primary state.

An independent run by Bloomberg would have to surmount the same hurdles that face any third-party candidate in a system dominated by Democrats and Republicans. Simply obtaining a place on the ballot is an arduous and expensive task in most states, often requiring petitions signed by large numbers of voters. That might be less of a problem for Bloomberg than for most independent contenders. His personal wealth would allow him to hire signature-collection companies to do the job. The financial information company he founded and largely owns, Bloomberg LP, is privately held. His share of the company has been estimated to be worth as much as $13 billion. The last major third-party candidate to seek the presidency was, like Bloomberg, a wealthy self-made man - Ross Perot - who also largely funded his own campaign.

In 1992, Perot led in the polls for a time, before quitting the race; he re-entered and wound up with about 19% of the popular vote and no electoral votes. Perot's candidacy that year served as a catalyst, however, boosting Democratic nominee Bill Clinton's chances and, many Republicans believe, hurting the re-election chances of incumbent Republican President George H.W. Bush. Bloomberg's potential impact on the 2008 contest has been a matter of considerable speculation. Rising voter discontent with politics in Washington is reminiscent of the mood in the early 1990s, and the mayor has sought to position himself as an antidote to the capital's partisanship. (