NEW YORK (AFP) - Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor and billionaire media owner, has stated for the first time that he is considering launching a White House bid this year.
The move would thoroughly upend a presidential race that has already kicked into high gear, as Republicans and Democrats battle it out for prominence in Tuesday's crucial New Hampshire primary.
Mr Bloomberg, who mulled running in previous elections and has criticized the quality of debate in the 2016 race, told the Financial Times he was "looking at all options" when asked whether he was considering throwing his hat in the ring.
"I find the level of discourse and discussion distressingly banal and an outrage and an insult to the voters," he said, adding that Americans deserved "a lot better." The comments came after The New York Times reported last month that Mr Bloomberg had instructed advisers to draft plans for a potential independent presidential bid that could see him spend at least US$1 billion of his estimated US$40-billion (S$56.14-billion) fortune.
Associates told the Times late last month that Mr Bloomberg was alarmed by the rise of Mr Donald Trump on the extreme right wing of the Republican Party and troubled by Mrs Hillary Clinton's lurch to the left in a bid to contain self-described democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Mr Bloomberg, 73, is the founder of the eponymous financial news agency.
His estimated net worth far exceeds that of Mr Trump, a billionaire real estate magnate whose fortune Forbes puts at US$4.5 billion.
A pragmatist rather than an ideologue, Mr Bloomberg is driven by results and wedded to statistics. He was a Democrat before turning Republican in 2001 and then switched his affiliation to independent in 2007.
His entry could radically re-shape 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.
Mr Trump and Mr Sanders have both said they would relish the opportunity to run against Bloomberg.
"I think the American people do not want to see our nation move toward an oligarchy, where billionaires control the political process," Mr Sanders said last month.
Mrs Clinton recently called Mr Bloomberg "a good friend" and said she would "relieve him" of the need to enter the race by winning the nomination herself.
Mr Bloomberg has set a self-imposed deadline of early March to make a decision.