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Alaska Gov. Bill Walker asks President Barack Obama a question after Obama during the National Governors Association meeting on Feb. 22, 2016, at the White House.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker asks President Barack Obama a question after Obama during the National Governors Association meeting on Feb. 22, 2016, at the White House.Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images

Independent candidates have had success, but face long odds

John Wood is mounting an independent Senate bid as controversial former Gov. Greitens remains frontrunner for the GOP nomination.


Former Jan. 6 committee investigator John Wood is running for Senate as an independent in Missouri, hoping that a fractured Republican Party could deliver him an opening to overcome increasing polarization.

The Senate already has two independents Maine Sen. Angus King and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, both of whom caucus with the Democrats. Wood said he would caucus with Republicans in the Senate should he win.

And Wood is not the only candidate to make this bet this cycle — Utah independent Evan McMullin is running for Senate too (with the backing of the state Democratic Party) .

But Wood's case is different, as Missouri is likely to nominate competitive Republican and Democratic candidates. That adds to the uncertainty as to whether Wood can win outright, or if he siphons off enough Republican votes to help the Democratic nominee.

Here's a look at how some of the most prominent independent candidates have performed in recent statewide elections:

Alaska Senate 2020: Al Gross

Surgeon Al Gross jumped into the Senate race against Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, and ultimately tried to chart a similar path to the one McMullin is trying now in Utah. Gross won the Democratic nomination despite not being a registered Democrat, but he ran slightly behind President Joe Biden in the state and lost to Sullivan by 13 points.

Kansas Governor 2020: Greg Orman

Orman's bid has some similarities to Wood's too — many Republicans were not supportive of their party's nominee, the controversial former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Orman tried to build off his strong showing in the 2014 Senate race (he finished 11 points behind then Republican Sen. Pat Roberts), and provide an alternative to Kobach.

The independent ended up winning just 6.5% of the vote, a distant third-place finish but more than the margin between Kobach, and the victor, Democrat Laura Kelly.

Alaska Governor 2014: Bill Walker

Walker is a success story for independent candidates. He ran as the independent candidate against sitting Republican Governor Sean Parnell and ultimately absorbed the Democratic campaign, making the Democrat, Byron Mallott, his running mate.

The independent narrowly edged out Parnell and became the governor. But Walker's fusion ticket ultimately ended up being his undoing, as he suspended his re-election campaign in 2018 after Mallott made inappropriate comments toward a woman.

Virginia Governor 2013: Robert Sarvis

There's an old adage in Virginia — the president's party always loses every modern governor's race in the state. That is, except for once: the 2013 campaign.

That year, Democrat Terry McAuliffe narrowly edged out Republican Ken Cuccinelli by less than three percentage points as Libertarian Robert Sarvis pulled 6.5%.

Alaska Senate 2010: Lisa Murkowski

Don't fret if you are seeing a trend — Alaska has a long history of candidates having success running with varying degrees of separation from the two-party system.

Murkowski is another success story, one complicated by the fact she was the incumbent when she mounted a write-in campaign after losing the party's GOP nomination for Senate to attorney Joe Miller.

The incumbent won more than 39% of the vote, beating Miller by about 4 points.