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NYT: President? Or Kingmaker?

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  • Ram Lau
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/24/weekinreview/24healy.html June 24, 2007 A Modest Proposal President? Or Kingmaker? By PATRICK HEALY MAYOR MICHAEL R.
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 24, 2007
      http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/24/weekinreview/24healy.html
      June 24, 2007
      A Modest Proposal
      President? Or Kingmaker?
      By PATRICK HEALY

      MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG of New York insisted yet again last week
      that he did not intend to run for president in 2008, even as he left
      the Republican Party to become an independent. Then, on Friday, he
      tweaked his language somewhat, simply saying, "I'm not going to be
      president."

      Which opens the door to a Swiftian modest proposal, one that might
      appeal to any billionaire independent presidential candidate who knows
      the art of a deal: Rather than try to win the White House outright — a
      long shot — an independent candidate could instead try for a
      king-making (or queen-making) bloc of votes in the Electoral College.

      In doing so, a moneyed candidate like Mr. Bloomberg could advance his
      post-partisan national agenda — and gain a great deal of power — by
      introducing coalition politics to America's system of government,
      through a power-sharing plan that catapults either the Republican or
      Democratic nominee to the presidency. Here's how it might work:

      With the nation divided into red and blue as it has been in the last
      two presidential elections, all a rich, self-financed candidate would
      have to do is win a big state (or two) to ensure having a king-making
      bloc of electoral votes: say, Florida (the decisive state in 2000), or
      Ohio (2004), or maybe New York (Mr. Bloomberg's home state), or
      California (that of his friend, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger).

      Mr. Bloomberg spent $84 million in 2005 to win re-election as mayor.
      In 2008, a wealthy candidate could spend five times that (or 10 times,
      as some Bloomberg associates suggest he might do) to run for
      president. Under this hypothetical scenario, the money would support a
      targeted advertising campaign to sell an Electoral College strategy to
      voters. (You wouldn't even need to get on the ballot throughout the
      country.)

      The essential pitch to voters: Washington is broken, and we need to
      find a third way. Elect an independent for president.

      But instead of running a national campaign, the independent candidate
      strives to win the electoral votes of only a few states. This idea is
      a stretch by the conventional wisdom of American politics, of course.
      But before 2000 nobody dreamed the Supreme Court would decide a
      presidential election, either.

      "An Electoral College showdown, however improbable, would make the
      wild ride of the Florida recount look tame," said Paul A. Beck, a
      professor of political science at Ohio State University.

      There is some historical precedent for a king-making scenario. In
      1968, George C. Wallace, who rose to prominence as the
      anti-integration governor of Alabama, ran for president as an
      independent; his plan was to exploit fractures in the Democratic Party
      and win enough Southern states and electoral votes to foist his agenda
      on a major-party nominee or throw the election to the House of
      Representatives. He carried five states in the Deep South — not
      enough; Richard M. Nixon won handily. The segregationist Strom
      Thurmond pursued a similar strategy in 1948, winning 39 electoral
      votes (nowhere near enough to thwart Harry S. Truman's storied
      come-from-behind win).

      More recently, both celebrities and rich men have demonstrated the
      popularity or financial wherewithal to persuade voters in this
      hyperkinetic news media environment to circumvent politics-as-usual:
      Mr. Schwarzenegger; former Gov. Jesse Ventura of Minnesota; Jon
      Corzine, the former senator and current governor of New Jersey; and
      Mr. Bloomberg himself.

      Mr. Bloomberg's aides say he has no plans to be a kingmaker. Yet
      suppose an independent candidate with unlimited means carried New York
      in the general election on Nov. 5, 2008, winning a sharply divided
      vote among three home-state politicians (with Mrs. Clinton as the
      Democratic nominee and Rudolph W. Giuliani as the Republican). And
      suppose the Democratic and Republican nominees split the other 49
      states and the District of Columbia in a way that left both just shy
      of an Electoral College majority (270 votes) without New York's 31 votes.

      With his king-making bloc of votes, an independent candidate could
      broker a deal with one of the candidates, European- or Israeli-style.
      Cabinet posts could be divvied up (say, Senator Chuck Hagel as defense
      secretary). Specific policies and spending commitments would be agreed
      to (say, plans for immigration and health care, two top national
      priorities for the mayor).

      NOW, here's where one or two or 100 lawyers come in. This
      reform-minded disbursement of power could be guaranteed by a legally
      executed contract with a hefty cash bond if the eventual president
      reneges. (There's nothing barring this in the Constitution.)

      The clock would be ticking. A deal to throw the decisive electors to
      one candidate or the other must be struck in the six weeks before
      several hundred electors cast their votes in their individual states
      on Dec. 15, 2008.

      A big wild card is the loyalty of the independent candidate's slate of
      electors (though perhaps they could be well-compensated by the
      self-financed campaign). If New York electors gathered in Albany to
      cast their electoral votes but began peeling off as they cut their own
      political deals, the grand bargain would be sunk.

      "Electors are generally trustworthy, but formal attempts to bind them
      haven't been tested that much," said John C. Fortier, a research
      fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor of "After the
      People Vote."

      If no candidate achieves a majority in the Electoral College, the
      election would be decided in the newly elected House of
      Representatives, where each state's Congressional delegation would
      have one vote for president.

      The Democrats currently dominate 26 congressional delegations to the
      Republicans' 20; the 4 other states have an even split of members at
      this writing. If that partisan split were to hold after Election Day
      2008, the Republican presidential candidate would have a huge
      incentive to make a power-sharing deal so the election never fell to
      the House.

      "If he gets it into the House, a Democrat is going to win the
      presidency, because they have the votes pure and simple," said Mario
      M. Cuomo, the former Democratic governor of New York, who is
      noncommittal on the presidential race at this point.

      A few dozen extra federal judges might be needed on the bench to
      adjudicate all the potential legal complications. And an independent
      candidate might find his convictions sorely tested.

      "The challenge for him is how a candidate who wins some states by
      being above partisan politics can engage in the kind of wheeling and
      dealing that may be necessary for him to actually determine who
      becomes the president, and under what conditions," said Mr. Beck of
      Ohio State.

      Yet for an independent-minded politician like Mr. Bloomberg who looks
      and speaks and acts like a presidential candidate, the lure of the
      free-for-all election in 2008 may prove irresistible. Being a mayor is
      one thing; being a president is another; and being behind the throne —
      well, to paraphrase one New Yorker, Mel Brooks, it's good to be the
      kingmaker.
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