WASHINGTON • Mr Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, has confirmed in an interview that he is considering running for US president this year as an independent.
The interview with the Financial Times, published on Monday, came ahead of the crucial first primary in New Hampshire yesterday to choose the presidential candidates for the elections in November.
Mr Bloomberg's entry could radically reshape the race and in particular impact Democratic efforts to hold the White House, as experts see him drawing more Democrats than Republicans because of his liberal stance on gun control, abortion and the environment.
The 73-year-old founder of the eponymous financial information group was critical of the quality of debate in the contest and said he was "looking at all the options".
"I find the level of discourse and discussion distressingly banal and an outrage and an insult to the voters," he told the Financial Times, adding that the US public deserved "a lot better".
Mr Bloomberg has told aides to draw up plans for an independent campaign for the presidency, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters on Jan 23, confirming a report in the New York Times. He would be willing to spend at least US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) of his own money on the campaign, according to the source.
Mr Bloomberg has given himself an early March deadline to make a decision, aides said.
In December, he commissioned a poll to see how he would fare against Mr Donald Trump and Mrs Hillary Clinton, the Republican and Democratic front runners. Aides said that he planned to take a new round of polling after the New Hampshire primary to gauge the viability of a campaign.
No third-party candidate has ever won a US presidential election.
But Mr Bloomberg, who has close Wall Street ties and liberal social views, sees an opening for his candidacy if Republicans nominate Mr Trump or Texas senator Ted Cruz and the Democrats nominate Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, the source said.
A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that a third-party presidential run by Mr Bloomberg would be a long shot but could help Mr Trump if the real estate mogul lands the Republican nomination.
Mr Bloomberg was a Democrat before switching his affiliation to Republican in 2001 and then turning independent in 2007. His estimated net worth of US$40.2 billion far exceeds that of Mr Trump, whose fortune Forbes puts at US$4.5 billion.
The small north-eastern state of New Hampshire, home to just 1.3 million, is the battleground that could shake out the crowded Republican field, pitting Mr Trump and Mr Cruz against more establishment candidates led by Florida senator Marco Rubio.
The high number of registered independents, who can choose to vote either Democrat or Republican, and the up to 30 per cent of undecided voters in the final days before the primary mean that everything is in play.
Mr Trump has pledged to bounce back from the embarrassment of finishing second behind Mr Cruz in the Iowa caucuses last week.
The rest of the Republican pack has been fighting it out for a victory, strong second or even solid third-place showing that can propel them onward towards South Carolina and Nevada.
Among the Democrats, Mrs Clinton is looking to narrow the gap on Mr Sanders, whom polls predict will gallop to victory in New Hampshire.
Snow fell heavily in the state late on Monday, snarling traffic and creating a last-minute obstacle for voters and candidates who braved plunging temperatures and freezing winds.
REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE