Third-party movement fizzles
Tuesday , May 22, 2012 - 11:49 AM
So Americans Elect wasn't a subterfuge for Michael Bloomberg, Colin Powell or Jon Huntsman after all.
Too bad. Americans have demonstrated their desire for an alternative to the status quo.
That a large number of us seem open to the idea of voting for a presidential candidate who is not a Republican or Democrat would seem to be supported by voter-registration figures and polling data that document the rise of independents.
According to USA Today, from 2008 until the end of 2011, Democratic registration was down in 25 of the 28 states that register voters by party, and Republican registrations were down in 21. Independent registrations were up in 18.
In five Gallup surveys in 2012, an average of 42 percent of Americans have identified themselves as political independents (compared with an average of 29.4 percent identifying themselves as Democrat and 27.4 percent as Republican), up from last year's 60-year high of 40 percent.
But the organizers of Americans Elect, an effort to nominate a centrist, bipartisan ticket, seemed to recognize the futility of nominating former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, not to mention his runners-up (Rocky Anderson, Michealene Risley, Laurence Kotlikoff, TJ O'Hara or Michael Ballantine), none of whom you have likely heard of. Roemer could not garner the requisite number of clicks in Americans Elect's online primary (1,000 from at least 10 different states), so the Internet effort to field a third ticket has failed, at least for now.
Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a member of the Americans Elect advisory board, did not mask her disappointment with the failure to find a candidate, but she told me last week that the organization's "operational goals were all achieved." She was referring to the group's success in getting on "about 30" state ballots thus far (enough to reach the 270 electoral votes needed for victory) and being on track to meet the requirements of the remaining states.
But not even the prospect of access to 50 state ballots was enough to attract an A-list candidate. Apparently, that's because of some of those who could have filled the bill were good for lip service only.
"I understood and always knew it was going to be a tough row to hoe to get people to do that. I appreciated that coming from the political world as I do," said Whitman. "But I am disappointed, particularly because ... (of) the number of people who have said, ... 'This is a great idea, this is what we ought to be doing, I am fully supportive,' and then push comes to shove (and) it's, 'Uh, you know, I can't really come out and say I believe that.' And that is disappointing."
That must have prompted a sigh of relief at President Obama's campaign headquarters in Chicago. Ten months ago, after columnist Tom Friedman gave Americans Elect a big launch in the Sunday New York Times, I noted that Americans Elect delegates then ranked the issues this way: the economy, education, energy, health care, foreign policy, social issues, and immigration. That immigration was dead last showed this was never a right-of-center movement.
In fact, the answers to the accompanying online questions also illustrated the left-of-center tendencies of the initial delegates.
For example, on which solution they favor in response to the budget, the leading answer (46 percent) was "more tax increases than spending cuts (mix of both solutions)," not exactly a tea-party response. And back then, long before the president's about face, 80 percent said "same-sex couples should be allowed to marry legally, with all the same rights as traditional marriages."
We'll never know for sure, but odds were that this movement could have hurt Barack Obama more than Mitt Romney.
While it is too bad that the country will be denied an additional choice in November, better that a good idea not be tarnished by a weak showing from an inferior candidate.
With a B-list of wannabes, Americans Elect could only have played a spoiler role and those behind the effort must not have wanted such a legacy. Whitman told me as much.
"We're not going to lower our standards," she said. "Our team has to show it can win."
Michael Smerconish writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers may contact him via www.smerconish.com.