Michael Bloomberg went out of his way to bemoan a campaign he described as a “race to the extremes,” with candidates exploiting Americans’ loss of faith in a political system that is “corrupt, gridlocked and broken.”

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In a wildly chaotic presidential election starring a tycoon-turned-reality-television star from New York and a socialist from Vermont, is there room for another billionaire from Manhattan’s East Side?

That is a central riddle facing former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as he contemplates a third-party bid for the White House.

Donald Trump’s resounding victories in South Carolina on Saturday and in Nevada’s caucuses Tuesday have solidified his status as the Republican front-runner. On the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ surge and his landslide win in New Hampshire have kept him in the race even as Hillary Clinton has regained some momentum after her narrow victory in Nevada last weekend.

What remains unknown is whether Bloomberg, 74 — who is among the richest people in the United States, with a fortune pegged at $41.2 billion by Forbes as of Wednesday — is willing to insert himself into a contest that remains unpredictable even as the field of candidates winnows.

The New York Times reported in January that Bloomberg had set a deadline for making a decision about entering the race in early March, the latest point at which advisers believe he could still qualify to appear as an independent candidate on the ballot in all 50 states. He said he was willing to spend at least $1 billion of his fortune on a run, retained a consultant to help him explore getting his name on state ballots, and aides did a detailed study of past third-party bids.

Last week, Bloomberg went out of his way to bemoan a campaign he described as a “race to the extremes,” with candidates exploiting Americans’ loss of faith in a political system that is “corrupt, gridlocked and broken.”

“That’s why you see the current candidates out there doing well, and not the conventional ones,” Bloomberg said at a Manhattan book party, an apparent reference to Trump and Sanders.

Looming over Bloomberg’s deliberations is the question of which party a Bloomberg candidacy would hurt more. With polls suggesting that Bloomberg would draw more Democratic than Republican voters, it makes little sense that Trump’s surge would prompt the former mayor to run.

That said, Bloomberg’s viability may be strengthened if Clinton is damaged by a drawn-out nomination process.

Defying naysayers

Bloomberg proved his capacity for defying naysayers 15 years ago, when he captured New York’s City Hall. But New York is not the United States, and it’s far from certain that swing-state voters would embrace a former Republican known for opposing guns, smoking and big-gulp soft drinks.

Nor is it clear that a measured, sober-toned business executive could command an electorate that so far has rewarded unceasing bombast over pragmatism.

“You don’t solve problems by pointing fingers or making pie-in-the-sky promises,” Bloomberg said at last week’s gathering. “You solve them by bringing people together around common goals, promoting innovation, demonstrating independence, and recognizing that compromise is not a bad word.”

Bloomberg’s potential as a candidate is rooted in what the Gallup organization has identified as an ever-broadening swath of U.S. voters who define themselves as independent and express dissatisfaction with both major political parties.

For those voters, familiar names such as Clinton may seem like more of the same; meanwhile, Sanders, Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, may be too extreme, creating opportunity for Bloomberg, a former Democrat who turned Republican before declaring himself unaffiliated in 2007.

“There is a broad constituency, and there will be a broader one still, given the polarization of this election,” said Douglas Schoen, Bloomberg’s pollster, who recently wrote a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed article, “Why Mike Bloomberg Can Win.”

“He’d be the only one talking about bipartisan consensus and bipartisan decision-making and results-oriented policies,” Schoen said. “In a particularly unstable political situation like the one we’re in now, where there’s so much anger, it’s impossible to write off any credible candidate.”

Bloomberg would face daunting challenges, not the least of which would be prevailing in enough states to reach the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency.

U.S. voters have never elected a third-party candidate to the presidency.

On a logistical level, Bloomberg’s campaign would need to quickly assemble an army to gather more than 900,000 signatures needed to qualify for the ballots in 50 states, with a litany of rolling deadlines beginning this spring.

“Every state has a different process for getting on the ballot, and it’s implicitly designed to make it very difficult,” said Reed Galen, a Republican strategist who advised Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “Is it plausible for him to get on the ballot? Yes. Easy? No.”

Unfamiliar to voters

Perhaps more crucially, Bloomberg would need to sell himself to a public that is largely unaware of him. A Quinnipiac poll this month found that 56 percent of U.S. voters had not heard of Bloomberg, the owner of the media company that bears his name.

A poll out this week showed even more dire numbers: Just 7 percent of registered voters say they definitely would vote for him, while 29 percent say they’d consider it, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

Six in 10 Democrats and Republicans alike say they would not consider voting for Bloomberg in a general election, according to the poll. The total saying they wouldn’t vote for him is the highest level for any candidate in the field.

But the survey also suggests a Bloomberg candidacy could not be merely shrugged off by the two parties.

With more than one-third at least open to backing him even before he’s started, Bloomberg may have the potential to become a spoiler in a close fall election.

But a President Bloomberg?

Opposition to Bloomberg’s possible candidacy is nearly uniform across the political spectrum, as 61 percent of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters and 63 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters say they wouldn’t vote for him.

GOP strategist Ed Rollins said that unlike the enthusiastic hordes propelling Trump and Sanders, Bloomberg “has none of that. He has a billion dollars, but there’s not a movement for him.”

New York’s political establishment ridiculed Bloomberg when he ran for mayor in 2001. No matter his wealth, the argument went, a political novice running as a Republican could never win in a city awash in Democratic voters.

While the Democratic nominee, Mark Green, was weakened by a savage primary battle that year, he held a formidable lead over Bloomberg as the general-election campaign began.

Bloomberg’s willingness to spend $50 million of his own fortune on the campaign allowed him to inundate New Yorkers with television ads and mailings. His financial acumen became ever more attractive after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks hurt New York’s economy. And an 11th-hour endorsement from then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani — exalted at that point for his handling of the 9/11 aftermath — was tantamount to a blessing.

But Bloomberg also closed the gap by identifying and, over many months, methodically appealing to 800,000 New Yorkers who were unaffiliated with either the Democratic or the Republican parties. It was an effort his advisers tout as key to his narrow victory.

Translating a success

Bloomberg’s success in New York may have little bearing on how he would fare in a presidential race, the outcome of which is determined not by the popular vote but by the Electoral College.

“What works in New York doesn’t necessarily work in the rest of the country,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of a nonpartisan newsletter covering state and federal campaigns. “He’s the guy whose known for being against guns and soft drinks. Is that going to play in Fairbanks, Alaska, or the suburbs of Indianapolis?”

Competing in a three-way race, Bloomberg’s progressive stances may not be problematic if he needs only to win a plurality against opponents such as Trump and Sanders.

But his success would depend on independents remaining estranged from the two major parties by November — and on their willingness to expend their vote on a candidate whose viability is uncertain.

Despite claims of political independence, voters’ “partisanship runs pretty deep,” Rothenberg said. “There are people who say they’re independent who aren’t really independent. They don’t want to throw their vote away.”

There’s also the question of which party a Bloomberg candidacy would damage more. A recent USA Today/Suffolk University poll showed Sanders in a close two-way contest against Trump, but losing to the reality-television star if Bloomberg were on the ballot (Bloomberg placed third).

Ultimately, Bloomberg’s challenge would be to identify those states in which he could win a plurality and put together the necessary electoral votes, according to an analysis this month by Rothenberg in a column in Roll Call.

What Rothenberg concluded is that Bloomberg would have little chance in what Gallup and he have identified as the country’s 20 most conservative states, including Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

Bloomberg would also face imposing challenges in the country’s most left-leaning states, such as Oregon, Vermont, Massachusetts, Michigan and Maryland.

There’s little question, though, that Bloomberg’s candidacy would upend the current list of key swing states in the general election, states including Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida, Colorado and Virginia.

Where Bloomberg could find success, Rothenberg said, is in states such as California, New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, all states that typically vote Democratic. Ohio is the only swing state on that list. And with so many states likely out of reach, Bloomberg “would have to run the table” in those and other states. “That won’t be easy. My bottom line is I don’t see it,” Rothenberg said.

Trump’s and Sanders’ success may have made the art of political predictions risky, Rothenberg said, but the math isn’t adding up, “even for Michael Bloomberg with all his money.”

“When you look at the puzzle,” he said, “it’s, at the least, very, very difficult.”