With the news Wednesday afternoon that billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to spend $80 million to help Democrats retake the US House majority this year, some in the political class are wondering whether the Medford native is making a move to run for president.
Bloomberg told the New York Times that he plans to spend money to back Democrats from largely suburban districts because he believes the Republican-led Congress has done little to address issues important to him like gun control and climate change. On top of that, he told the paper, they've been "absolutely feckless" in serving as a check on President Trump.
For context, large donations from wealthy pockets are not unusual, but Bloomberg's $80 million personal investment far exceeds even the most headline-grabbing contributions that preceded it. Republican donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson pledged $30 million to help fellow Republicans hold onto their majority in the House of Representatives, while on the Democratic side, energy investor Tom Steyer also put $30 million toward the effort to help Democrats.
But unlike those donors, Bloomberg has actively explored the possibility of running for president twice before as an independent, most recently in 2016. That begs the question: What is he up to with a contribution that enormous this time around? Could he be plotting to get in the good graces of Democrats ahead of what could be a very open race, marked by a very sprawling field of candidates that could number as many as two dozen?
In explaining his decision not to run back in 2016, Bloomberg said he wasn't convinced he had a clean shot at the presidency and as an independent, he didn't want to serve as a third-party spoiler. Were he to align himself with the Democratic party and run on that ticket, however, it would prompt a different conversation and one that had political observers talking Wednesday.
"I have no doubt that the mayor wants to see a check on the excesses of Trump," said David Axelrod, former chief strategist to President Obama. "But if Bloomberg, who was a Democrat once, were to announce his full reentry into the party prior to a run, this would be one good way to do it."
For most of his adult life, Bloomberg, 76, was indeed a Democrat. But that was before he switched to the Republican side of the aisle in order to run for mayor of New York in 2001. He later served as host of the 2004 Republican National Convention in his city before switching his affiliation yet again, declaring himself an independent in 2007.
Fast forward to 2016, when, as an independent, he was asked to address the Democratic National Convention in an effort to appeal to unaffiliated voters. At that point, he was already beginning to contribute heavily to Democratic candidates who backed measures to curb gun violence.
That brings us to 2017. Bloomberg aides told the Times that in deciding which Democrats to back for Congress this year, the former mayor wants "to support candidates who share his relatively moderate political orientation, avoiding nominees hailing from the populist left." That philosophy could set him apart from other potential Democratic candidates like US Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who style themselves as populist progressives.
Up in New Hampshire, home of the first presidential primary, Manchester Democratic Party chairman Gene Martin said the idea of Bloomberg running for president on the Democratic side would make for an interesting addition to a large candidate field.
"People here are looking for that different thing, and as a business type and big city mayor, he offers something different," Martin said. "New Hampshire Democrats also tend to elect moderates, so I think he would have an audience should he want to visit."
James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics: http://pages.email.bostonglobe.com/GroundGameSignUp.