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    Political Junkie
    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    Independence Day

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to washingtonpost.com
    Friday, July 16, 1999

    Question: Do you think there is enough "conservative" sentiment among voters to establish a third political party, e.g., uniting Libertarians, Ross Perot adherents, etc., for 2000? – Arden Chilcote, Indianapolis, Ind.

    Button
    Sen. Robert Smith (N.H.) is still a candidate but no longer a Republican. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

    Answer: Obviously, that's what New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith had in mind when he bolted from the Republican Party this week. In announcing he will stay in the running for the White House but as an independent, Smith argued that the GOP establishment, as well as its presidential candidate, George W. Bush, has sold out on abortion, taxes and guns.

    As a Republican hopeful, Smith was going nowhere, getting just two or three percent in the polls in his own home state. Should he join forces with the U.S. Taxpayers Party, he would have a vehicle for his candidacy, but not much more. With Howard Phillips heading the Taxpayers' ticket in 1996, the party captured only 184,000 votes nationwide, or 0.19 percent of the total vote.

    There have been rumors that other conservatives seeking the presidency, such as Pat Buchanan or Gary Bauer, might also leave the GOP to run as third-party or independent candidates. A bolt by Buchanan would be seen as much more serious, as he is thought to have a legitimate constituency among Republicans, as well as Perotistas who agree with his position on trade.

    However, there is an argument that the time may not be right for a serious presidential bid from outside the two-party system. It's usually during a time of social or economic upheaval that independent presidential candidates perform best – witness George Wallace in 1968 and Perot in 1992. That does not seem to be the case today. And while you will get an argument from the Buchanan, Smith, Bauer and Steve Forbes camps, Bush is running as a conservative (albeit "compassionate") and expects to get the support of conservatives.

    Question: Since the beginning of this century, how many third-party or independent candidates were elected to the Senate or governor of a state? – Ray Johnson, New Brunswick, N.J.

    Answer: Let's start with the Senate. Since the adoption of the 17th Amendment in 1913, which called for the popular election of senators, eight were elected without running on Democratic or Republican lines. Here's the list, with the party represented and year(s) elected:

    • Henrik Shipstead (Farmer-Labor, Minn.), 1922, 1928, 1934
    • Magnus Johnson (Farmer-Labor, Minn.), 1923
    • Robert La Follette Jr. (Progressive, Wisc.), 1934, 1940
    • Ernest Lundeen (Farmer-Labor, Minn.), 1936
    • George Norris (Independent, Neb.), 1936
    • Strom Thurmond (write-in, S.C.), 1954
    • James Buckley (Conservative, N.Y.), 1970
    • Harry F. Byrd Jr. (Independent, Va.), 1970, 1976

    In addition to Bob Smith, two other non-Republican/non-Democratic senators served, but were not elected as such. Elmer Benson (Farmer-Labor, Minn.) was appointed to the Senate by the Farmer-Labor governor in 1935 following the death of a Republican senator. Rather than seek a full term in 1936, Benson ran for governor as a Farmer-Labor candidate and was elected. Oregon's Wayne Morse was a two-term GOP senator when he decided to leave the Republican Party in 1952 and become an Independent. In 1955 he switched to the Democratic Party and was elected two more times before his defeat in 1968.

    Here's the list of independent and third-party candidates who were elected governor:

    • Hiram Johnson (Progressive, Calif.), 1914
    • Julius Meier (Independent, Ore.), 1930
    • Floyd Olsen (Farmer-Labor, Minn.), 1930, 1932, 1934
    • Philip La Follette (Progressive, Wisc.), 1934, 1936
    • Elmer Benson (Farmer-Labor, Minn.), 1936
    • William Langer (Independent, N.D.), 1936
    • Orland Loomis (Progressive, Wisc.), 1942
    • James Longley (Independent, Maine), 1974
    • Walter Hickel (Alaska Independence Party), 1990
    • Lowell Weicker (A Connecticut Party), 1990
    • Angus King (Independent, Maine), 1994, 1998
    • Jesse Ventura (Reform, Minn.), 1998

    Many thanks to the Senate Historian's Office and the National Governors Association for their help on this answer.

    Question: Are there any northern Republicans who might, under the right circumstances, switch to the Democrats, considering the Southern, conservative trend of the present Republican Party? – K. Wickerham, North Branch, Mich.

    Button
    The last GOP senator to leave his party was Oregon's Morse in 1952. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

    Answer: Nobody comes to mind. There has always been talk that some pro-abortion rights Republicans might feel more comfortable in the Democratic Party. But many of them stay in the GOP because of other issues, such as taxes or government spending. There had been a serious wooing of Minnesota GOP state Auditor Judi Dutcher to switch to the Democrats (or the Reform Party) to challenge Sen. Rod Grams (R) next year, but she turned them down.

    While Sen. Bob Smith did not defect to the Democratic Party, he is the first sitting GOP senator to bolt his party since Wayne Morse in 1952, who also became an independent (see the previous answer). In the last 20 years, every congressional defection had gone from the Democrats to the GOP:

      SENATE: Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Colo. 1995), Richard Shelby (Ala. 1994).

      HOUSE: Nathan Deal (Ga. 1995), Greg Laughlin (Texas 1995), Billy Tauzin (La. 1995), Mike Parker (Miss. 1995), Jimmy Hayes (La. 1995), Tommy Robinson (Ark. 1989), Bill Grant (Fla. 1989), Andy Ireland (Fla. 1984), Phil Gramm (Texas 1983).

    Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

    Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin

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