Americans Elect meets reality

What happens if you start a political party and nobody comes? Six months ago, a newfangled third party burst onto the scene, full of hope and promise. It was called Americans Elect, and it sought to give voters a choice many said they were looking for: “centrist” candidates who could break the partisan gridlock paralyzing Washington.

In its founders’ heads danced visions of middle-of-the-road candidates who could transform American politics: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Colin Powell, Michael Bloomberg, Jon Huntsman Jr. Wealthy donors invested millions in a fancy website for an Internet primary, signed up 420,000 would-be “delegates” and got on the ballot in 29 states. Newspaper columnists, including me, pondered what effect it might have on the election.

Then the grand idea collided with reality.

Americans Elect’s website is still humming, and its lawyers are still working to get the party on the ballot in all 50 states. But it’s missing two essentials: a viable candidate and enthusiastic voters.

In an embarrassing setback, not enough voters registered support for any of the fantasy candidates to meet the threshold for nomination. The top vote-getter was Republican candidate Ron Paul, but he says he isn’t interested in a third-party run. Among the few public figures who were willing to play, the top vote-getter was former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, a Democrat turned Republican; he won the online support of exactly 6,293 people, short of the 10,000 he needed.

It turns out you can’t get many voters excited about a party built by anonymous donors around an abstract concept. Centrist third parties have done respectably in American presidential elections when they were led by charismatic figures; Theodore Roosevelt won 27 percent of the vote in 1912, and H. Ross Perot won 19 percent in 1992. But without a charismatic leader, it’s hard to rally people around the banner of moderation.

So, on Thursday, Americans Elect announced that it won’t be running a candidate this year at all — but said it still hopes to find a way to get independent figures onto the ballot in future years.

Why couldn’t Americans Elect land a better-known candidate? It tried. Darry Sragow, a canny Democratic campaign strategist from Los Angeles, led a nationwide talent search to persuade top-tier names to jump in. Sragow says he talked with about 50 current and former officeholders, including incumbent senators and governors, but nobody was willing to take the chance.

“Everyone agreed that the system is broken,” Sragow said. “The problem is that their risk aversion was too high. There’s a fear of retribution if you break with your party.”

Retribution? Sure. Not like in Syria, where dissidents are shot, or Russia, where they’re merely jailed. But in Washington, a failed third-party presidential candidate could become a pariah — no Cabinet job, no ambassadorship, no consulting clients, no seats on corporate boards.

Sragow wouldn’t identify any of the individuals he talked with. But others in the effort said a bid to enlist Bloomberg failed because the New York mayor considered the race unwinnable and didn’t want to spend time on a quixotic gesture. Several corporate CEOs expressed interest but backed out once they realized the scrutiny they would undergo as presidential candidates.

So Americans Elect turned out to be a failure — this time. It had defects; its donors’ insistence on keeping their contributions secret made voters and potential candidates uneasy. But that doesn’t mean it was a bad idea. If Rick Santorum was winning the GOP nomination instead of Mitt Romney, a third party might look plenty viable.

And it still may have life left in it. The most useful role for a centrist third party in American politics would be in Senate and House races, where the two major parties have proved perfectly capable of nominating second-rate partisans. Voters in Indiana might welcome a second chance to vote for Sen. Richard Lugar, who lost the GOP primary in part because the “tea party” considered him too moderate. In 2010, Nevada voters yearned for a third choice beyond the uninspiring Sen. Harry Reid and the tea party’s mercurial Sharron Angle. In 2014, Americans Elect might be just the entity to facilitate such choices.

It’s not often remembered, but Toyota’s first model in the United States, the 1957 Toyopet Crown, was an underpowered failure. Apple’s first try at a tablet computer, the Newton, ended up on the scrap heap.

If Americans Elect can get on the ballot and stay there, it could still turn out to be a step toward rebuilding a vital center in Congress. Just not this year.

• McManus is a columnist for The Los Angeles Times.

More

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 11:53

Stand with Alaskans and stand with Planned Parenthood

I appreciate Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s recent decision to support repealing the Trump administration’s global gag rule. The global gag rule bans federal money for overseas family planning programs if the programs also provide abortion, or provide information about abortion. The global gag rule puts thousands of lives at risk, and Murkowski has rightly recognized that. I praise Murkowski, and want her to know that Alaskans stand with her in supporting access to family planning services. This means that we support Planned Parenthood, and we hope she will stand with us in the coming weeks by refusing to vote for any changes to the Affordable Care Act that include defunding Planned Parenthood. Read more

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 08:42

Alaska editorial: The opioid issue

This editorial first appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:

Read more
Wed, 02/22/2017 - 08:41

Expanding apprenticeship in rural Alaska

We are proud to announce a new statewide training initiative: the Alaska Maritime Apprenticeship Program. Over the past year, the Calista Corporation, in partnership with the state and federal government, has built a Registered Apprenticeship program to train Alaskans for careers on deck, in the engine room, and in the galley, earning both a salary and an industry-recognized credential. Working with a group of companies including Brice Marine and Yukon River Towing, we are expanding career and training opportunities for Alaskans in the maritime industry.

Read more
Wed, 02/22/2017 - 08:40

Transboundary mining: Defending Alaska’s interests

It is a big week for Alaska’s capital city. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan are in town to address the Alaska State Legislature, the United Fishermen of Alaska (UFA) Board of Directors, and all Alaskans. There are a number of issues on which the state of Alaska, including our elected decision makers at both the state and federal levels, can show unity. One of those critical issues is asking the U.S. federal government to defend Alaskan interests in the Alaska-British Columbia (B.C.) transboundary mining issue.

Read more

CONTACT US

  • Switchboard: 907-586-3740
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-586-3740
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Business Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-523-2230
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback

ADVERTISING

SUBSCRIBER SERVICES

SOCIAL NETWORKING