The former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg has opened the door to a 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, warning that the current field of candidates is ill-equipped to defeat Donald Trump.
Mr Bloomberg, who initially ruled out a 2020 run, has not made a final decision on whether to jump into the race for the White House.
If he were to launch a campaign, it could dramatically reshape the Democratic contest less than three months before primary voting begins.
The 77-year-old billionaire has spent the past few weeks talking with prominent Democrats about the state of the 2020 field, expressing concerns about the steadiness of former vice president Joe Biden’s campaign and the rise of liberal Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, according to sources.
In recent days, he took steps to keep his options open, including moves to get on the primary ballot in Alabama ahead of the state’s Friday filing deadline.
Mr Bloomberg’s adviser Howard Wolfson said the former mayor believes President Trump “represents an unprecedented threat to our nation” and must be defeated.
“But Mike is increasingly concerned that the current field of candidates is not well positioned to do that,” Mr Wolfson added.
Mr Bloomberg’s moves come as the Democratic race enters a crucial phase.
Mr Biden’s front-runner status has been vigorously challenged by Ms Warren and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who are flush with cash from small-scale donors.
However, both are viewed by some Democrats as too liberal to win in a general election face-off with Mr Trump.
Despite a historically large field, some Democrats anxious about defeating Mr Trump have been looking for other options.
Former attorney general Eric Holder and former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick have quietly had conversations with supporters urging them to consider a run, but neither appears likely to join the race.
Mr Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent who registered as a Democrat last year, has flirted with a presidential run before but ultimately backed down, including in 2016.
He endorsed Hillary Clinton in that race and, in a speech at the Democratic Party convention, pummelled Mr Trump as a con man who has oversold his business successes.
Mr Bloomberg has plunged his efforts – and his money – into gun control advocacy and climate change initiatives.
He again looked seriously at a presidential bid earlier this year, travelling to early voting states and conducting extensive polling, but decided not to run in part because of Mr Biden’s perceived strength.
With immense personal wealth, Mr Bloomberg could quickly build a robust campaign operation across the country.
Still, his advisers acknowledge that his late entry to the race could make competing difficult in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, which have been blanketed by candidates for nearly a year.
Instead, they previewed a strategy that would focus more heavily on the March 3 “Super Tuesday” contests, including in delegate-rich California.
Some Democrats were sceptical there would be a groundswell of interest in the former New York mayor.
“There are smart and influential people in the Democratic Party who think a candidate like Bloomberg is needed,” said Jennifer Palmieri, who advised Mrs Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
“But there is zero evidence that rank-and-file voters in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire feel the same.”
Still, others credited Mr Bloomberg with taking on “some of America’s biggest challenges” and finding success.
“While this is not an endorsement, Michael Bloomberg is a friend and I admire his track record as a successful business leader and Mayor who finds practical solutions to some of America’s biggest challenges, from creating good jobs to addressing the opioid crisis and fighting for common-sense gun safety,” said Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo, a Democrat.
Ms Warren tweeted: “Welcome to the race, @MikeBloomberg!” and linked to her campaign website, saying he would find there “policy plans that will make a huge difference for working people and which are very popular”.
Mr Bloomberg would face other challenges as well, particularly scrutiny of his three terms as mayor. He has defended the New York Police Department’s use of the controversial stop-and-frisk policy that has been criticised as targeting African Americans and Hispanics.
Black voters in particular are one of the most powerful constituencies in Democratic politics.
Mr Bloomberg will have to move quickly in the coming days and weeks to get on the ballot in many of the primary states, including Alabama. New Hampshire’s filing deadline is November 15.