When the Big Apple's press corps last month put on its annual theatrical spoof of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the show focused on the idea that he would become a successful presidential candidate.

Appropriately, and with a touch of sarcasm, the skit was titled "Fat Chance."

Obviously, the scribblers turned singers and dancers should not quit their day jobs, but their view that the multi-billionaire businessman turned mayor could find himself under pressure to get into the race is not off the deep end.

Bloomberg himself denies he is running, but obviously loves the speculation. And, his aides and friends actively keep the idea of his candidacy alive in the news media.

His enormous wealth and the reality that he could only run as an independent or third party candidate allow him to decide whether to run after the Democrats and Republicans pick their nominees.

His or any well-funded or prominent third-party or independent White House candidacy has the potential to scramble the Electoral College calculus. But the notion that he would be a serious contender to win the election is a much different matter.

The intricacies of getting on the ballot in the 50 states, putting together a campaign without the built-in organization that the Republicans and Democrats have, and navigating the complexities of winning the Electoral College vote make such a candidacy the longest of shots. That's even if he had the right message and experience to begin with.

Although he has been successful in New York City, making sure the potholes are filled is a far cry from managing the economy or fighting a war.

No local-government official has ever jumped directly to the White House. Bloomberg has no foreign policy or military experience at a time when national security is likely to be an overriding issue.

Also, for an independent or third-party candidate to do more than appeal to the ideological fringes, or the small group of voters who disdain either of the two major parties, the Democrats and Republicans would have to nominate far-left and far-right candidates. In that case Bloomberg's socially liberal and fiscally conservative views night fill a void.

However, neither the current two leading Republican candidates, Bloomberg's predecessor as New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, are viewed as strong conservatives by voters. And the Democratic frontrunner, Sen. Hillary Clinton, is doing everything in her power to move to the political center.

In fact, should the Republicans nominate a candidate like Giuliani, many believe that the odds are better a far-right candidate might get in as an independent rather than a candidate from the middle of the ideological spectrum.

However, the process in which the Republicans and Democrats will pick their presidential nominees — and the likelihood that will happen by early February of 2008 — will almost certainly create a period next spring rife with speculation about a potential third-party or independent candidacy.

That's because historically, buyers' remorse sets in once the major party candidates are identified. If indeed that occurs in early February, politics abhors a vacuum, and there will be plenty of time from then until November for a self-financed candidate like Bloomberg to get into the race, or at least seriously contemplate the possibility.

Bloomberg is a former Democrat turned Republican — albeit a moderate one, given that conservatives in New York City are as popular as Red Sox players. His fortune is estimated to be more than $5 billion, meaning he has the mammoth financial resources to finance a first-class presidential campaign by writing a check.

After all, he spent $150 million of his own money on his two mayoral campaigns to win re-election in 2005 by 20 points over the Democratic nominee in a city dominated by Democrats. And, he remains enormously popular in New York City where the latest Quinnipiac University poll found he had a 73 percent job approval rating.

Yet, it is worth remembering that even with Bloomberg's considerable personal charm, in politics what plays well on Broadway may not do so well in Peoria.

The odds are that Michael Bloomberg's presidential candidacy, if it ever launches, is likely to fall into that category.