FOR THE THIRD straight presidential cycle, Michael Bloomberg's name is floating around the electosphere.
The former three-term New York City mayor recently commissioned a poll to measure his viability.
At a time in American politics when the unlikely seems possible, who's to say any White House bid is just plain crazy?
Anyone a year ago think Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders could win early presidential contests?
Anyone willing to bet the ranch on who takes office a year from now?
And, come on, a Bloomberg-for-president effort carries more cachet than a Trump or Sanders try.
Bloomberg's a tested leader after 12 years running a city with more people than 39 of the 50 states, more people than Israel, Ireland, Denmark, or Finland.
When he left office at the end of 2013, his city was cleaner, crime was down, and there was a $2.4 billion budget surplus.
He's far wealthier (and more self-made) than Trump: Forbes this week puts Trump's net worth at $4.5 billion, Bloomberg's at $36 billion.
And he's younger than Sanders. The Vermont senator would be 75 when sworn in; Bloomberg would be 74.
Yeah, Bloomberg flirted with running in 2007 and 2011, and since said he wouldn't run, implying never ever.
But what if?
What if Trump wins Iowa on Feb. 1? He narrowly leads in an average of polls. And then wins New Hampshire on Feb. 9. He leads there by double digits. And then wins South Carolina on Feb. 20. He also leads there by double digits.
(A quick note about New Hampshire: In 16 cycles going back to the 1950s, New Hampshire voters picked the eventual GOP nominee 13 times.)
Isn't winning in three distinctly different states in the Midwest, Northeast, and South a strong suggestion of momentum toward the nomination?
And what about Sanders?
Iowa polling shows him close to presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. It shows Sanders down just two points, within the margin of error.
He was widely viewed as the winner of Sunday night's Democratic debate, the last before Iowa. And if he wins Iowa and New Hampshire, his home region, where he leads by seven points, doesn't he ride a tailwind down to South Carolina?
You're thinking, wait, won't Clinton crush Sanders in a state where polling last month had her up 40 points?
She should. But change can happen fast. Clinton lately seems electorally softer. And if she's seen as more of the same or a blast from the past at a time when voters want fresh ruckus, well, just sayin'.
Granted, it's still a big if. But if the major parties nominate Trump and Sanders, each pretty far out there in terms of right and left proposals, each suspect in a general election, it's an open invitation for a self-funding centrist.
Bloomberg, clearly, makes the invite list.
National pundit Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia says, "If we end up with a Trump-Sanders race [which he sees as unlikely], there will be a stampede of wealthy politicos testing the waters for independent bids. Bloomberg, who has long hungered for the presidency, will be one of them."
But D.C.-based political analyst Stuart Rothenberg tells me, "If I had a dollar for every time I heard Bloomberg was considering a run for president, I'd be richer than Donald Trump."
Still, Rothenberg wrote in a Tuesday column for Roll Call that "it doesn't take much imagination" to wonder if a serious mainstream Republican or a wealthy pragmatic liberal would consider a run "to save the country."
Bloomberg, a former Democrat, former Republican, now independent, is wealthy, pragmatic, and on some issues liberal.
How likely was it months ago that the truculent Trump would top all GOP polls, or that the socialist Sanders would threaten a coronation of Clinton?