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Independents' Day? Game Rigged Against Third-Party Candidates

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In this photo taken on Thursday, June 26, 2014, Larry Wiegert Sr. touches up a large American flag painted on the eastside of his shed along Highway 20 a couple miles east of Osmond, Neb. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Jerry Guenther) Jerry Guenther / AP

Independents’ Day?

There’s not a better week to look at the state of “independent-based politics” than on Independence Day weekend! And if there was ever a time for an independent, third-party candidacy to gain a following, it should be this year; the public is almost begging for it (as it was in 2010 or 2012). Just a quarter of Americans think the country is headed in the right direction, according to last month’s NBC/WSJ poll; 57% want to fire their member of Congress; and the two major political parties have upside-down fav/unfav ratings with the public. But when you survey the 2014 races across the country, there aren’t many viable third-party candidates. Yes, there are a handful of races where an independent could play spoiler -- think Eliot Cutler in Maine’s gubernatorial race, Larry Pressler in South Dakota’s Senate contest, Mufi Hannemann in Hawaii’s governor’s race, and maybe even Thomas Ravenel in South Carolina’s Senate contest. And, yes, it was just two years ago when independent Angus King, Maine’s former governor, won a Senate seat in that state (though he caucuses with the Democrats). But the day before Independence Day, it’s worth observing that political independents -- both candidates and voters -- have less influence than they should during these anti-Washington times. There isn’t a Jesse Ventura-like figure out on the horizon this election season. And political races are increasingly decided by the bases, not independents. See 2012.

A rigged game

So how do you explain why independent candidates are unlikely to play a major role this election season when Washington and the two main political parties are so unpopular? There’s a blunt answer: If you’re a serious candidate with a solid resume and you are even considering a third-party candidacy, you believe the game is rigged against you. Unless an independent is a Michael Bloomberg or Ross Perot, he or she won’t have the campaign money or Super PAC network to compete with the major political parties, especially in today’s post-Citizens United world. Third-party candidates typically don’t get the media attention -- and thus name ID -- that Democrats and Republicans get (and never mind the rigged ballot rules in so many states against third parties and independent candidates). And independents just don’t have the infrastructure (voter files, opposition research, big data) that the major parties have. So it seems harder than ever for an independent candidate to break through. Then again, with social media and the power of outside groups, there is a potential PATH for a strong third-party candidate. But that’s down the road, not now.

A vehicle for protest votes

All of that said, some third-party candidates are going to get protest votes this fall. Strategists have told us that they see evidence these candidates are getting a higher percentage in polling than they ordinarily do, and that’s significant because it means that a winning number in November isn’t 51% -- it could be 46% or 47%. It’s as if these third party candidates are serving as the public’s “None of the Above.” Don’t forget last year’s gubernatorial contest in Virginia, where Democrat Terry McAuliffe defeated Republican Ken Cuccinelli, 48%-45%, because Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis got 6.5% of the vote. Of course, that Sarvis percentage was lower than polls had indicated, but it still made the winning number less than 50%.

Giving political juice (and relevancy) to a White House that was running on empty

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz makes a point we made earlier this week: Ever since House Republicans announced that they would vote to authorize a lawsuit against President Obama, the president has seem energized. “With immigration reform dead for this year, if not for the remainder of Obama’s presidency; with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) threatening to sue him for alleged misuse of presidential power; and with other important legislation stalled in the House, the president has given voice to his frustrations with a series of partisan blasts.” And as we said earlier this week, what the Boehner lawsuit has done is give political juice to a White House that had been running (almost) on empty the past few weeks. Meanwhile, don’t miss a few of these critiques of the Boehner lawsuit idea coming from the right (see here and here). The main argument with both columns: the U.S. House has power to fight back if they think their power has been usurped, they don’t need to go running to the judiciary branch for help -- it actually only makes the House and the legislative branch weaker by doing so.

Economy adds 288,000 jobs, unemployment rate drops to 6.1%

Speaking of juice, these numbers are bound to give the White House a little more pep in their step before the July 4 holiday: “Hiring over the past five months has been the strongest since the late 1990s tech boom as the economy added 288,000 jobs in June and the unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent from 6.3 percent,” the AP reports. “The Labor Department says those gains follow additions of 217,000 jobs in May and 304,000 in April, figures that were both revised upward.” Folks, so much for that negative first-quarter GDP number. The economy looks stronger than at any time since the Great Recession.

Going too far in Mississippi?

Tea Partier Chris McDaniel and his supporters certainly don’t think last month’s GOP Senate runoff in Mississippi is over. Yesterday, McDaniel issued this fundraising solicitation: “Thanks to illegal voting from liberal Democrats, my opponent stole last week’s runoff election, but I’m not going down without a fight.” And his supporters crashed a conference call sponsored by the Thad Cochran campaign, in which one unidentified person talked about “harvesting” cotton and black voters. That conference call should serve as a wakeup call to McDaniel and his team: Their challenge is dividing their party, it’s injecting race (either explicitly or implicitly) into a state with a troubled history on that subject, and it’s all damaging to Mississippi’s reputation. Unless McDaniel uncovers the Watergate of voter fraud, he’s also ruining his future in Mississippi politics. Remember, Al Gore, John Ensign, and John Thune all lost contests where the margin was MUCH closer than in Mississippi last month, and all of them (eventually) conceded the race. And Ensign and Thune went on to win in future contests. Let’s also don’t forget this about the Cochran-vs.-McDaniel race: Someone has already died as a direct or indirect consequence of this race. Isn’t that enough?

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