AUSTIN, Texas — New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg met Friday with the ballot access expert and campaign manager for H. Ross Perot's third-party presidential bid, a sign of the seriousness in which the multibillionaire is considering his own independent run.

Bloomberg met privately with Clay Mulford, who is well-versed in third-party ballot access and served as campaign manager for Perot, according to an individual close to the mayor. Perot sought the presidency in 1992 and 1996.

The lunch meeting with Mulford comes less than two months before Bloomberg would be able to start gathering signatures to get on the ballot and meet Texas' early deadline.

If Bloomberg wants a chance at winning the state's large slice of electoral votes — 34 — he would need to collect about 74,100 signatures by May 12, and could only begin petitioning there on March 5. Not only does he have a short window to petition, the signatures need to be from Texas residents who did not vote in a party primary.

Asked Friday about the significance of being in Texas, with its early ballot deadline, Bloomberg seemed irritated with the question, having said only a moment earlier that he is "not a candidate" despite all the calls for him to run.

"I just said, I'm not a candidate — it couldn't be clearer," he said. "Which of the words do you not understand? People have urged me to do it but I'm not a candidate."