With the prospects of a potential high profile Independent presidential candidacy by New York Mayor (and billionaire) Michael Bloomberg on the horizon, gaining the votes of political independents becomes even a higher prize for the establishment parties in 2008. Independents comprise approximately 25 percent of the electorate in Minnesota and 30 percent in Iowa and Wisconsin.

The eventual Republican nominee will seek to win back independent voters who helped the Democratic Party take back the U.S. House and Senate in the mini-landslide elections last year. The Democratic candidate will assuredly need to strike a tone of moderation in his or her political ideology, or risk losing independents to an independent such as Bloomberg.

Moderate Republicans might be attracted to a Bloomberg campaign (himself most recently a member of the GOP, but also once a Democrat)—especially so if maverick Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel joins the ticket (unlike Senator John McCain, to whom the media inappropriately has assigned such a label, Hagel is a true maverick—parting company with his party’s leadership on Iraq, long before it was fashionable to do so).

So where will the independent vote fall in the Upper Midwest in 2008?

In Iowa, independents currently give President Bush a much lower approval rating, at 23 percent, than his statewide average of 34 percent (SurveyUSA, June 2007). Independents basically rate the job performance of their Senators—Republican Charles Grassley and Democrat Tom Harkin—in line with the statewide average. Independents overall give the Republican Grassley higher marks (62 percent) over Harkin (51 percent).

In Minnesota, while independents also are slightly less approving of Bush’s performance (26 percent) compared to the statewide average (29 percent), they are more supportive of Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty (57 percent) compared to the state overall (50 percent). Independents rate DFL Senator Amy Klobuchar’s job performance higher than that of Republican Norm Coleman (57 to 48 percent).

Independents in Wisconsin, however, seem to have a somewhat harsher view of their statewide Democratic leaders, and a slightly more favorable view of President Bush than their newly re-elected Democratic Governor Jim Doyle. Thirty-eight percent of independent Wisconsinites approve of Bush’s job performance (in line with the 37 percent statewide average) while 37 percent approve of Doyle’s job performance (four points less than his statewide 41 percent approval rating).

Wisconsin independents also give the two Democratic Senators Herb Kohl (53 percent) and Russ Feingold (48 percent) lower job approval ratings than their statewide average (60 percent and 53 percent respectively).

The Democrats therefore do not have anything close to a lock on the independent vote in 2008 in the Upper Midwest, and a viable, politcally moderate third party candidacy like that of Bloomberg might very well prove an insurmountable hurdle for them to overcome.