Time again for third-party run'
The only time in modern history when a third-party presidential candidate got more votes than a major-party candidate was in 1912.
Nearly 100 years later, Republican John McCain, who lost his White House bid, suggests voters are angry enough with Washington to do that again.
Each generation arrogantly assumes its lifetime's events are "firsts." Yet 2012's election will have nothing over 1912's electoral drama.
They have record dissatisfaction with both parties in common.
Four main candidates ran in 1912: a Republican president (William Howard Taft), a former Republican president turned "progressive" (Teddy Roosevelt), a Democrat (Woodrow Wilson) nominated only after 46 ballots and the eventual support of populist William Jennings Bryan, and a Socialist (Eugene Debs).
Third-party candidates generally fill the gap when the major parties don't respond to a given set of needs, said Larry Lindsey, a former Federal Reserve governor.
"I think McCain is right -- that this is a natural time for third parties to channel public anger at Wall Street and Washington," he said.
Third-party candidates Ross Perot in 1992 and Ralph Nader in 2000 came nowhere close to winning but are credited with costing other candidates the White House.
Yet the 2000 race was so controversial because of Florida, not Nader, according to presidential historian Eldon Eisenach: "If (Al) Gore had simply won his own state, he would have won (the election)."
In 1992, however, Perot not only got 19 percent of the vote but forced the other candidates to address the national debt, Eisenach said.
While it is provocative to imagine voters throwing both parties out of Washington, Republicans and Democrats clearly have stacked the deck against third-party candidates. Add to that their press allies, said Christopher Kelley, a U.S. elections expert.
With no national ballot, a candidate must get on each state's ballot, by obtaining thousands of signatures. And a candidate usually must get a certain share of the vote -- 15 percent in many states -- or risk being off future ballots and forced to gather signatures again.
"Furthermore, winner-take-all elections -- versus proportional representation -- offer no incentives to candidates who cannot come in first," said Kelley.
The press refuses to cover most third-party candidates or, if it does, covers them in a highly negative way -- as cranks or troublemakers -- which does nothing for their public standing. It does so even though "the American public fully supports the option for a third-party choice," said Kelley.
Howard Dean, former Democrat presidential candidate and Vermont governor, likes third parties' competitiveness and ideas. "But they should start on local levels, where they can really effect change in a very real way," he said.
Dean readily admits the atmosphere is ripe for political revolt: "America views Washington as being incredibly out of touch -- especially the middle class."
His advice for Barack Obama: Stay out of Washington and keep talking about jobs.
Democrat Joe Sestak, retired Navy admiral and former eastern Pennsylvania congressman who shocked the Washington establishment by upsetting U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter in 2010, said he initially considered running as an independent.
After months of consideration (and the Obama White House's controversial request that he forgo a primary challenge), he ran as a Democrat. He beat Specter but narrowly lost the general election to Republican Pat Toomey.
Sestak thinks Obama initially had that populist Jacksonian spirit that attracts independents, Republicans and Democrats who will go for a third-party candidate.
"But he did not retain the breadth of the people's support, because there was too much focus on Washington politics instead of using the heft of people behind him as the best influencer of needed policy changes," he said.
One Democrat strategist, who spends most of his time with Main Street voters beyond the Beltway, said "2012 is a year for an outsider/independent. But it would have to be one who can self-finance while simultaneously having the appeal to attract motivated individuals that will get him or her on the ballot in all the key states."
A tall -- but not impossible -- order to fill.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rossi: Rutherford falling apart, too
- Greensburg plastic surgeon pleads not guilty to charges of interfering with painkiller investigation
- Healthy Ride, Pittsburgh’s bike share program, won’t require helmets
- Firefighters rescue 3 from Beechview house fire
- LaBar: WWE bans finishing move of top star
- Brentwood Borough School Board approves major cutbacks
- Scoring struggles linger for Penguins 2nd line
- Pittsburgh man taken for wild ride on Route 28
- Westmoreland County’s prison board to consider inmate service projects
- Cubs’ rookie third baseman Bryant helps send Pirates to defeat
- Swissvale homemaker reveled in family, friends