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Centrist group having trouble finding a presidential candidate

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The United States is still not ready for a third party.

Americans Elect, a group that has spent the past two years securing ballot access for a yet-to-be-named centrist presidential candidate, has a significant problem: It can’t find a candidate.

The group said Tuesday that no candidate has attained the level of support needed to be considered at its online convention next month, and that the deadline to qualify has passed. That leaves the group with ballot access in more than half the states — including many swing states — but no name to put on the ballot.

Americans Elect board members will gather Thursday to determine whether the project, which has cost $35 million, will go forward. The nonprofit group, which was started with much fanfare among the tech-savvy political crowd, had a grand vision for citizens to take part in a long and complicated Internet nominating process. The organization would secure ballot access, and the people would pick the candidate.

But none of the declared candidates has reached the 10,000-vote threshold required to be named to the ticket.

“It’s really a matter of the candidates. We provided the platform, the technology and ballot access,” said Americans Elect spokeswoman Ileana Wachtel. “We don’t support candidates or run their campaigns.”

The episode is the latest signal that, although polls show many Americans say they want a third-party or independent candidate, the institutional barriers are often too much to overcome.

Americans Elect’s leading candidate is Republican Buddy Roemer, a former Louisiana governor, who has accumulated nearly 6,000 supporters on the group’s Web site while railing against political corruption and Wall Street greed.

“I feel like a guinea pig a little bit, but it’s worthwhile,” said Roemer, who has spent $100,000 in his five-week campaign for the Americans Elect ticket.

Roemer says he hopes the group will revise its requirements and field a candidate.

Unlike the Green Party, Americans Elect is not creating a separate party, but trying to change the political process by attempting to put together a mixed-party ticket, requiring its presidential candidate to pick a running mate from a different party.

Leaders of the group, which was formed and backed by Peter Ackerman, a wealthy private investor and philanthropist, have been criticized for keeping its donors private and potentially acting as a spoiler in the race shaping up between President Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

In the days ahead, Americans Elect’s backers will try to salvage the project.

Some of the heavyweights who have supported the group — including Republican Christine Todd Whitman, a former governor and Cabinet member; John D. Negroponte, a recent overseer of U.S. intelligence; Michael Eisner, a former chief executive of Disney; and Doug Schoen, a Democratic pollster — have said they want the project to press on.

“I hope that at this late date a candidate will come forward,” said Schoen, who is still asking people to run for the ticket. One challenge, he said, is that “both parties have discouraged people.”

William S. Cohen, a Republican former senator and defense secretary, whom Ackerman approached a few months ago about running, said he likes the idea of Americans Elect but declined the offer.

“There are a lot of people who are disenchanted with the process,” Cohen said. “But once you get on the ballot, you’ve got to go out and . . . raise a billion dollars. You’ve got to go out and start campaigning and you have no organization.”

Staff writer Ned Martel contributed to this report.

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