Unity08 Seeks Middle-of-the-Road Candidate

By Chris Cillizza
Washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 25, 2007; 6:17 PM

Actor Sam Waterston praised the personal attributes of "Law and Order" co-star Fred Thompson but warned that if the former Tennessee Senator enters the Republican presidential field he will be forced to run the "gauntlet" of conservative interest groups to win the nomination.

"Everyone is obliged to trim their answers," to please the party's base, said Waterston, a leader of Unity08, a third-party movement, during an interview today on washingtonpost.com's "PostTalk" show. "This is a legitimate concern for anybody who is entering the race."

Former Gov. Angus King (I-Maine), another leader of the new group, said the current Republican campaign underscores the negative impact of this sort of base politics, noting that candidates including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) have had to engage in numerous "twists and turns" on crucial stands on social issues to please conservative activists.

Asked about former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- a social liberal and the current frontrunner for the Republican nomination -- King was skeptical about the Empire State politician's ability to win if he sticks to the issue positions he adopted as mayor. "It will be very interesting to see what's left of him if he does win the nomination," King said.

Giuliani has faced considerable criticism from Democrats following comments he made during a trip to New Hampshire on Tuesday that implied electing a Democratic president in 2008 heightened the risk of repeat of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Appearing on conservative radio host Sean Hannity's program this afternoon, Giuliani refused to back down. Democrats "do not seem to get the fact that there are people, terrorists in this world, really dangerous people that want to come here and kill us, "Giuliani told Hannity. "They want to take us back to not being as alert, which to me will just extend this war much, much longer."

Waterston and King made their comments during an interview at the studios of washingtonpost.com as a guest of a new, regular video feature that provides interviews with presidential candidates, politicians and other newsmakers.

The two men are leading backers of Unity '08 -- a bipartisan effort to run a serious third party candidacy for president in 2008.

Waterston argued that dissatisfaction with the two parties has reached critical mass in recent years as the American public has watched as neither side addressed looming crises over climate change and Medicare among other issues.

King noted that Texas billionaire Ross Perot received 19 percent of the vote nationally in 1992 despite a late-starting campaign that saw the populist pot-stirrer exit the race in July only to rejoin the race months later. A disciplined two-year effort should be able to double that percentage, King argued, which would likely make the Unity 08 nominee the next president of the United States.

That theory will be put to the test over the coming months as Unity '08 seeks to recruit delegates for their national convention, which is set for next summer.

Delegates will choose a presidential and vice presidential nominee at the online gathering. The biggest names mentioned as possible candidates are New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel -- both of whom were elected as Republicans but have broken with party orthodoxy.

Waterston refused to comment on specific candidates, arguing that the creation of a third party option was -- at this point -- more important than any individuals candidate. He acknowledged, however, that without a appealing candidate at its center, Unity 08 would struggle to succeed.

He was also unwilling to handicap Fred Thompson's chances at the Republican nomination, saying only that the former Senator was "very straight forward" and someone "who knows how to keep his own counsel." Asked whether actors make good politicians, Waterston retorted: "History suggest that they can be very, very successful."

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