Billionaire Clinton pal and model wrangler Ron Burkle is salivating metaphorically at the prospect of getting his hands on Barnes & Noble, the once-mighty book chain that's now in play. Why?

A cursory glance at BN's recent financial history might be enough to ward off most potential buyers. But Burkle's long been known as a financial predator who scoops up undervalued properties, and he sees something in BN. The WSJ reports that a year ago, Burkle had a vision of BN partnering with a tech company like Hewlett-Packard to form a tech retail combo that would rival Apple. That fell through, but he had backup plans:

Among Burkle's other plans for Barnes, according to the ruling: "making major asset purchases from Borders, Barnes & Noble's major rival" and "a going private transaction."

Burkle already owns almost a fifth of BN stock. He's been in negotiations with the company this week, but those fell through, and now he's launching a proxy fight to try to gain control of the company.

Next to BN chairman Leonard Riggio, Ron Burkle seems to be the company's biggest fan. More timid souls might argue that BN's business model is simply outdated, and that the company's financial prospects will inevitably continue to decline. But more timid souls might also imagine that a man like Ron Burkle could never score a bevy of models. Timid souls have been wrong before.

[Pic: AP]