BLOOMBERG AS DEM VP CANDIDATE? When Michael Bloomberg announced he was leaving the Republican Party, my initial reaction was that it was a disaster for the Democrats. If he ran as an independent candidate for president, Bloomberg would almost certainly cut into the votes of self-identified independents that Democrats picked up in 2006 and that they will need again if they are to win the presidency in 2008. But now that Bloomberg has said he's not running for president, another possibility emerges. He would be an ideal candidate for vice president on a ticket with any of the major Democratic possibilities except, of course, Hillary Clinton.

Bloomberg's attractions -- his business reputation, executive experience, centrist image, and not least of all deep pockets -- are obvious.

Moreover, this would be the rational step for Bloomberg to take. The record of third-party candidates for president is dismal; running an independent campaign, Bloomberg would almost certainly only play the role of spoiler. But if he were paired with, say, Barack Obama, Bloomberg would have a genuine chance of ending up in the center of power.

The vice presidency is no longer something to be scoffed at. Al Gore played a central role under Bill Clinton, and Dick Cheney has exercised even more influence under Bush. With his executive experience, Bloomberg could become equally important in running a new Democratic administration.

Amazingly, Bloomberg has not one but two ways to alter the outcome of the 2008 election. He can help keep the Republicans in power by running as an independent, or he can help put the Democrats in power by taking the second spot on the Democratic ticket. Our future may hinge on the choice he makes.

--Paul Starr

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