Friday, October 28, 2011

Say What?

I thought I had a pretty good handle on the 2012 presidential elections, at least its broad overview. I was wrong. I completely missed an issue: a third party candidate or candidates. I'm not talking about a Tea Party run by Sarah Palin or a run by a real liberal such as Russ Feingold. I don't think either will happen, but at least that would make some sense, given the current political atmosphere. I'm talking about a third party run from the center.

But, according to Doyle McManus, that's a very real possibility, and Mr. McManus is no idiot. He's done his homework and just such a movement is currently afoot by a group which claims enough signatures to qualify as a party on any California ballot.

Until now, handicapping for next year's presidential election has focused on how President Obama might fare in a two-candidate race. Could Obama beat Mitt Romney? Rick Perry? Herman Cain? (In all three cases, the answer is probably yes.)

But there's likely to also be a wild card in this election. Americans Elect, a well-funded "virtual third party," plans to put a centrist presidential candidate on the ballot in all 50 states, and while he or she is unlikely to win the presidential election, the presence of a third candidate could still have a major impact on the outcome.

Americans Elect is a collection of Republicans, Democrats and independents who say they're fed up with the polarization that has poisoned American politics. Some of its backers have previously contributed to Obama, Romney or other candidates. Several are fans of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has flirted with the idea of running as a third-party centrist. The group's central figure is Peter Ackerman, a wealthy investor and former banker who considers himself an independent and who was active four years ago in a similar effort called Unity08.

Names under consideration, according to McManus, include Michael Bloomberg, Hillary Clinton, Evan Bayh, and Jon Huntsman. A quick scan of that list shows that all are "centrist" by today's standards, which means they are fairly conservative. Huntsman is currently running as a Republican, but is running so far behind Romney and Cain and Perry as to be essentially out of the race. Clinton claims she is not interested in any further political campaigns. Evan Bayh retired after a blistering attack on both parties. Bloomberg considered a run as a Republican and may be interested as a third party candidate, but I doubt it.

Assuming, however, that any of them would be willing, the effect on the race would be an interesting one. In the past, third party candidates have acted as spoilers. Perot may have cost George H.W. Bush a second term and Ralph Nader may have cost Al Gore a first term. Americans Elect claims it is serious, however, and not just in it to spoil either party's candidate. That's pretty hard for me to believe.

I get the impression that Doyle McManus thinks that way, too, at least implicitly. Any of these so-called "moderates" would probably draw more votes from Obama than Romney, although if the GOP candidate is someone like Rick Perry, that might change my mind.

And even Americans Elect acknowledges that right now, it's not the White House which is in gridlock, it's Congress. Yet rather than trying to challenge the stranglehold the GOP has on any meaningful legislation getting passed, the group has decided to make its splash in the presidential race. That smells like bad haddock to me.

But if these folks are serious, it's going to take more than popcorn for me to get through the next twelve months and the four years after that.



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