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Americans Elect and the death of the third party movement

at 06:30 AM ET, 05/18/2012

It ended with a whimper, not a bang.

Late Thursday night, Americans Elect, a much-ballyhooed group dedicated to securing ballot access for a serious third-party presidential candidate in 2012, issued a statement acknowledging failure.

“As of this week, no candidate achieved the national support threshold required to enter the Americans Elect online convention in June,” the statement read. “The primary process for the Americans Elect nomination has come to an end.”


Ross Perot ran as an independent candidate for president in 1992 and 1996. (AP Photo/ Perot Systems/ Allison V. Smith)
That’s a somewhat remarkable — and ignominious — end for a group that carried a number of high-profile backers in the political strategist and donor community and who, as of earlier this month, had secured ballot access in more than half of the 50 states.

And it’s a telling indication that, despite widespread discontent with the two-party system and near-record numbers of people saying that they would be open to voting for a third-party candidate, the future of another major political party emerging any time soon is more pipe dream than practical.

“Good and qualified people see politics as so poisonous today that they simply don’t want to participate,” explained Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to President George W. Bush and a major player in the Americans Elect movement. “It’s just damn difficult to break the iron grip of the two-party system.

McKinnon added: “This may not be a death knell for third-party efforts, but it’s a pretty good shot to the groin.”

While there had been no serious — and by “serious,” we mean someone who could actually win — third-party candidate since Texas billionaire Ross Perot ran in 1992 and 1996, Americans Elect was widely regarded as the last, best chance for those who believed there was a silent majority pining for another option.

Rather than repeat the mistakes of waiting for a candidate to emerge before doing the necessary legwork to get him or her on the ballot in enough states to be viable, Americans Elect started with ballot access in hopes that clearing that logistical hurdle would be enough to entice a candidate to run.

In theory, that was the right approach. (To quote Homer Simpson: “In theory, communism works.”) But, without a candidate to rally around, there was a deficit of enthusiasm for the online convention that was supposed to choose the nominee.

Americans Elect “took a ‘Field of Dreams’ approach: if you build it — a virtual nominating convention — they will come,” said Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute. “But political movements are built around compelling personalities or causes, not technology. Neither materialized in 2012.”

In the end, no candidate was able to clear the relatively low 10,000-vote threshold to “win” the Americans Elect nomination. The candidate who came closest was Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who boasts a decidedly ardent group of supporters but is far from the centrist problem-solver the founder of Americans Elect had in mind when they hatched the idea. (And Paul wasn’t even a “declared” candidate for the Americans Elect nomination; former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer, who got north of 6,000 votes, did the best of that group.)

McKinnon and other true believers in the possibility of a third party insisted all was not lost. “The results are disappointing, but until confidence is restored in the parties and our institutions of government, disruptive ideas will continue to emerge,” said McKinnon.

Added former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination but since dropping out has been a major advocate for a third party: “Today’s pathetic political environment will be upended either by visionary solutions-based leadership or by the kind of disruptive organizing technology being fine-tuned by Americans Elect.”

Maybe. But the failure of Americans Elect to field a candidate in 2012 is yet more evidence that there is a cavernous gap between the idea of running a third party candidate for president and the reality of doing so — a gap no one has figured out how to bridge just yet.

Romney’s favorable rating improves: Romney’s favorable rating has reached 50 percent for the first time and is now close to equaling Obama’s, according to Gallup.

The latest Gallup numbers show Romney just shy of Obama’s 52 percent favorable rating and climbing.

Earlier this year, Romney’s favorable rating was upside down, with 39 percent viewing him favorably and 47 percent unfavorably. Today, his unfavorable rating has dropped to 41 percent.

It’s a good sign for Romney, whose candidacy is currently the subject of a concerted effort on behalf of Democrats to define him as a corporate raider. But the poll was conducted just as that effort got off the ground, meaning there’s plenty of time on the clock.

Democratic Governors Association launches N.C. ad: A third-party group backed by the Democratic Governors Association is going up with a new ad in the open North Carolina governor’s race.

The ad, run by North Carolina Citizens for Progress and funded by the DGA, criticizes GOP nominee Pat McCrory for money he earned while mayor of Charlotte from a company that was charged with deceiving customers.

“North Carolina voters deserve to know the truth about Pat McCrory’s questionable ethics,” said DGA spokesman Mark Giangreco. “McCrory’s cozy relationship with the mortgage company Tree.com while he was Mayor of Charlotte is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to McCrory’s long history of ethical lapses.”

Giangreco said the ad buy is comparable to the Republican Governors Association’s recent $850,000 ad buy.

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton won the Democratic nomination last week.

NRCC outraised DCCC million in April: The National Republican Congressional Committee raised slightly more than its Democratic counterpart in April, pulling in $6.9 million to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s $6.5 million

Democrats have raised more this cycle but still trail in cash on hand. The NRCC has $31.3 million, while the DCCC has $25 million.

Fixbits:

A top gay donor leaves Romney for Obama.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) burnishes his bipartisan bona fides by talking about Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rob Portma n (R-Ohio).

Rubio says Obama switched his position on gay marriage for political reasons.

Pawlenty vs. Biden!

Former senator George LeMieux says he has no regrets about attacking Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) in the Florida GOP Senate primary.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) suggests Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) was drinking on the job.

Must-reads:

Fewer moderates? Blame redistricting.” — Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Washington Post

Obama and Romney offer differing views of God” — Lisa Miller, Washington Post

2012 political ads get an early start on TV” — Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman, Politico

Florida Steps Up Effort to Scrub Illegal Voters” — Lizette Alvarez, New York Times

 
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