In Stamford, the multitude of Connecticut residents that take the Metro North train to work every day recognized New York City’s Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg about as easily as they did their own Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman.
The two politicians stood outside in long black coats one nippy late October morning — eight days before the mid-term election — shaking hands and chatting with commuters before breaking for a press gaggle that turned into a love fest of moderation.
Standing in front of a podium with a sign that said, “Sticking with Joe,” Bloomberg said if John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage were written today, “There would be a chapter on Joe Lieberman.”
Lieberman stood with the mayor looking equally enamored of the virtues of centrism. The virtue was probably enhanced as hecklers in the audience held signs and tried to shout down Lieberman and Bloomberg.
The next week, Lieberman — running as an independent after losing the August Democratic primary — beat the hecklers’ choice of Greenwich millionaire Ned Lamont, the Democratic nominee. The triumph of an independent might have made the mayor’s Connecticut trip a smart political investment by a very savvy businessman rumored to be mulling an independent presidential run in 2008.
Bloomberg has talked about national issues like stem cell research, illegal immigration and gun control in Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore and California — sort of like, well, a national candidate would do. But in this case, he interjected himself into a race of national prominence by touting a candidate who successfully positioned himself as above the partisan fray compared to the anti-war, blogger-backed Lamont.
Thus, an alliance with Lieberman is a chance for Bloomberg to associate with the symbol of the American middle. It wasn’t just the train stop. Bloomberg also held two fundraisers for Lieberman, one at the mayor’s $17 million home in Upper Eastside Manhattan.
“The message of a Joe Lieberman victory will be that the public wants the parties to focus on the issues,” Bloomberg proclaimed at the Stamford train station.
Bloomberg repeated previous denials that he was running for president, and said, “I don’t know what the politics will be in ‘08. I think if both parties put up candidates that the public thought they could seriously consider, there probably would not be room for an independent candidacy.”
So, what happens if the candidates aren’t acceptable? What if they are just too partisan? The mayor might feel he owes it to his country to rescue the White House from ideologues.
“I expect he would be a gifted, honorable and able president,” Lieberman said at the train station, responding to a question. “He’s a problem solver. He’s not a polarizer. The public is yearning for a non-partisan problem solver.”
Yearning. It almost sounds like an endorsement, except for the fact Lieberman agreed he didn’t think the mayor would run.
THE LIEBERMAN VICTORY COULD bode well for a third party, triangulation master Dick Morris said in an interview for this story.
“Lieberman’s ability to cross party lines easily, certainly is attracting Republican and independent voters and certainly shows that Bloomberg could succeed,” Morris said. “His [Bloomberg’s] combination of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism and hawkishness on terror is a great combo for independent voters.”
Before we view Lieberman’s win as an omen for independent candidates, keep in mind he was a three-term incumbent in a race with no viable Republican opponent. Even an enthusiastic Morris will tell you a Bloomberg candidacy only works if Republicans nominate an arch conservative, not a John McCain or a Rudy Giuliani.
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