Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is considering a run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination

Concord (United States) (AFP) - White House hopeful Joe Biden put a brave face Friday on the prospect of Michael Bloomberg joining the Democratic race to topple Donald Trump, saying he wasn’t worried the billionaire businessman would siphon off his centrist voters.

Bloomberg, the 77-year-old former three-term mayor of New York, was positioning himself to join the 2020 White House contest by filing the paperwork Friday needed to get him on the Democratic primary ballot in the state of Alabama.

Biden, who will also turn 77 on November 20, has been the frontrunner so far, placing himself in the political center with South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg while Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren run to his left.

Political analysts said a Bloomberg candidacy might cut into Biden’s centrist support but Barack Obama’s two-term vice president dismissed any such concerns.

“Michael’s a solid guy,” Biden told reporters in Concord, New Hampshire, while registering to take part in the February primary in the northeastern state.

“I have no, no problem with him getting in the race,” Biden said. “And in terms of he’s running because of me, last polls I looked at I’m pretty far ahead.

“If I’m not mistaken I’m doing pretty well, both relative to Trump and relative to all the people running,” he said.

Jason Mollica of American University said the entry of Bloomberg in the race could be “an indication that he believes the Democrats do not have a strong candidate that can defeat President Trump.”

Former vice president Joe Biden registers to take part in the Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire

“Mr. Biden’s campaign isn’t the strength it was at the start and if Mr. Bloomberg gains the support of the centrists in the Democratic Party, that is a big sign for Mr. Biden the party doesn’t feel he’s the right candidate, either,” Mollica said.

Kyle Kondik of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia said a Bloomberg run could conceivably draw support away from Biden but it remains to be seen how much backing he’ll receive in a crowded field.

“At first blush, yes, one might think Bloomberg would hurt Biden more than others,” Kondik said. “But we have to remember that sometimes voters don’t fit neatly into ideological categories.

“While neither is running hard to the left and both are older white men, voters might perceive key differences between them,” Kondik said. “Bloomberg has to actually show he can draw significant support in order to hurt Biden.”

- ‘Doesn’t have the magic’ -

Trump himself weighed in on Friday on a potential Bloomberg bid.

US President Donald Trump said he would welcome the candidacy of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg

“Little Michael will fail,” Trump told reporters in a reference to the stature of the 5ft 8in (1.73m) Bloomberg. “He doesn’t have the magic to do well.

“There’s nobody I’d rather run against than little Michael,” Trump added. “He’s not going to do well but I think he’s going to hurt Biden actually.”

According to US media reports, Bloomberg has sent staff to Alabama to gather the signatures needed to register for the primary in the southern state. Alabama is not one of the early primaries but it has the earliest deadline to register.

Bloomberg said back in March he wouldn’t run, but has been toying for weeks with the idea of seeking the White House after all, according to advisors.

“We now need to finish the job and ensure that Trump is defeated – but Mike is increasingly concerned that the current field of candidates is not well positioned to do that,” Bloomberg advisor Howard Wolfson said in a statement.

“Based on his record of accomplishment, leadership and his ability to bring people together to drive change, Mike would be able to take the fight to Trump and win,” Wolfson added, according to Bloomberg News.

Factfile on Michael Bloomberg

Bloomberg, co-founder and CEO of the media and financial information company that bears his name, is one of the richest people in the United States according to Forbes, worth $52.4 billion.

His huge personal wealth would likely shake up the contest at a time when Biden’s fundraising is sagging.

Bloomberg, who was elected mayor of the Big Apple in 2001 and served until 2013, is seen as close to Wall Street and opposed to some of the policies espoused by the more liberal Warren and Sanders.

His entry would bloat an already crowded field of contenders, with 17 candidates vying for the right to take on Trump in November 2020 as the Democratic nominee.

Bloomberg has switched between the Republican and Democratic parties over the years and also served as an independent mayor.

He has used some of his fortune to back Democratic politicians and fund policies that he believes in – including gun control and the fight against climate change.

Bloomberg considered running for president as an independent in 2016 but eventually opted not to for fear of splitting the Democratic vote.